By Karine Kalantarian
Samvel Babayan, the former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh’s army, is gearing up for an intriguing challenge against a controversial brother of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian during this spring’s Armenian parliamentary elections.
An aide to Babayan on Wednesday confirmed that the once powerful general will run for parliament in a constituency in southeastern Armenian on which Aleksandr Sarkisian has reportedly set his sights. The single-mandate district No. 37 covers an area in the Syunik region which is close to Karabakh.
“The party and its leader have decided that he will nominate his candidacy in the district No. 37,” a senior member of Babayan’s Dashink (Alliance) party, Andranik Tevanian, told journalists. He said Babayan will run there in addition to topping Dashink’s list of candidates for the system of proportional representation.
Even though Aleksandr Sarkisian has not ascertained his election plans, it is expected that he will seek a seat in the next National Assembly from that constituency. Sarkisian, who is notorious for his flamboyant behavior and extravagant lifestyle, was elected to the current parliament from the proportional slate of the governing Republican Party (HHK). The HHK is now headed by his powerful brother and is therefore likely to throw its weight behind his bid.
It is not clear if Babayan will enjoy the backing of any government factions in the potentially tense race between the two Karabakh-born men. The Dashink leader, who commanded the Karabakh army during its victorious war with Azerbaijan, claims to be in opposition to President Robert Kocharian. But some opposition leaders and commentators suspect him of secretly cooperating with Kocharian.
There are also lingering questions about Babayan’s eligibility to contest the May 12 elections. Under Armenia’s constitution, only those Armenian citizens who have permanently resided in the country for the past five years can run for parliament. Although Babayan received an Armenian passport during the early 1990s, he moved from Karabakh to Armenia less than three years ago.
Still, Tevanian insisted that Babayan is eligible to be a candidate. He pointed to a 1989 act by the Soviet Armenian parliament that declared Karabakh a part of Armenia. Kocharian, who also comes from Karabakh, invoked the same declaration when he was controversially registered as a presidential candidate in 1998.
Critics have argued that the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic declared itself an independent state after a referendum in 1991, something which was reaffirmed by its recently enacted constitution. They also note that Karabakh residents have not been allowed to vote in elections held in Armenia since then.
(Photolur photo: Samvel Babayan.)