By Ruzanna Stepanian
The controversial General Samvel Babayan on Thursday strongly disputed critics’ claims that he has no legal right to form and lead a political party in Armenia because of being a resident of Nagorno-Karabakh until recently.
In a statement, Babayan’s office in Yerevan said Karabakh’s former defense minister holds an Armenian passport and considers himself and other residents of the disputed enclave to have been an Armenian citizens ever since the Soviet collapse.
“Samvel Babayan, making use of his rights and constitutional obligations as an Armenian citizen, defended Armenia’s borders and did everything in his power to ensure the security of Armenian citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh,” it said. “Thus, Samvel Babayan is a citizen of the Republic of Armenia, holds an Armenian passport and social card, and has never been a citizen of any other country.”
The statement referred to a 1989 joint declaration by the parliaments of Soviet Armenia and the then Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of Soviet Azerbaijan on the reunification of the two Armenian-populated entities. Azerbaijan considers that declaration illegal, portraying it as evidence of “Armenian aggression” against an internationally recognized part of its territory.
Armenia’s position on the issue has been rather equivocal. Successive post-Soviet governments in Yerevan have effectively treated the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) as an independent entity. However, President Robert Kocharian and his allies invoked the 1989 declaration when he first run for Armenian president in February 1998.
Kocharian’s opponents insist that he was not eligible to contest the 1998 and 2003 presidential elections because he had not lived in the Republic of Armenia for ten consecutive years as is required by the constitution.
Armenia’s legislation, by contrast, sets no minimum residency requirements for local citizens wishing to set up a political party. It also stipulates that ethnic Armenian residents of the former Soviet Union that “did not acquire the citizenship of another country” are entitled to Armenian nationality. It is apparently this clause that enables the Karabakh Armenians to obtain Republic of Armenia passports.
Once the most powerful figure in Karabakh, Babayan was imprisoned in 2000 on charges of plotting to assassinate NKR President Arkady Ghukasian. Babayan was released from jail last September and now plans to enter Armenian politics with his own party. He has still not specified whether the new party will support or oppose the current authorities in Yerevan.
(Photolur photo: Samvel Babayan.)