By Ruzanna Stepanian
Samvel Babayan, Nagorno-Karabakh’s former military leader increasingly involved in Armenian politics, pointedly avoided any contacts with media on Tuesday after being reportedly summoned to a feared security agency for questioning.
Newspaper reports in Yerevan said Babayan and several members of his Dashink (Alliance) party were interrogated by officers of the National Security Service (NSS) on suspicion of illegal arms possession on Monday. Some of them were said to have been briefly detained by the Armenian successor to the Soviet KGB.
The NSS press service refused to confirm or deny the reports. “We have no information about that yet,” a spokesman told RFE/RL.
Babayan and his aides were also extremely tight-lipped, ignoring repeated media inquiries throughout the day. Liana Terian, one of Dashink’s top candidates for the May 12 parliamentary elections, claimed at the party headquarters in Yerevan that the once powerful general is too busy to provide explanations. She then told security guards to order journalists away from the premises.
The reported interrogations are bound to be attributed to Dashink’s active involvement in the Armenian election campaign. Babayan has claimed to be in opposition to President Robert Kocharian ever since he set up the party in late 2005, just over a year after his unexpected release from a Karabakh prison. He had been serving a 14-year prison sentence for a botched 2000 attempt on the life of Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian.
Dashink is contesting the elections under the system of proportional representation and in some of Armenia’s 41 single-member districts. Setting up one of the most intriguing individual contests, Babayan has decided to challenge Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial brother Aleksandr in a constituency close to Karabakh.
The Yerevan newspaper “168 Zham” reported last week that the Armenian authorities are considering declaring that Babayan is not eligible for a parliament seat. Under Armenia’s constitution, only those Armenian citizens who have permanently resided in the country for the past five years can run for the National Assembly.
Babayan and his loyalists have repeatedly stated that he is eligible to join the race, citing a 1989 act by the Soviet Armenian parliament that declared Karabakh a part of Armenia. Kocharian and his allies invoked the same document he controversially ran for president in 1998 less than a year after moving to Yerevan from Stepanakert.
According to “168 Zham,” Babayan recently met unnamed “influential officials” from the presidential administration and threatened to appeal to the Constitutional Court in case he is not registered as a candidate. “Samvel Babayan is ready to make serious and scandalous revelations in the court,” the paper said.
Incidentally, among the individuals who were seen entering the Dashink offices on Tuesday was Kim Balayan, a Karabakh-born member of the Constitutional Court. Contacted by RFE/RL later in the day, Balayan denied discussing any political issues with Babayan. He said he visited the former Karabakh strongman for “personal reasons” only.