The National Security Service on Monday denied any involvement in the secret recording of a private conversation in which a close associate of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian expressed concern about growing discord within his Armenian National Congress (HAK).
The audio of HAK coordinator Levon Zurabian’s meeting with Vartan Oskanian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) was posted on YouTube by unknown users at the weekend and immediately caused a stir. The meeting apparently took place at a Yerevan café. But it is not clear whether two men met before BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian unexpectedly decided not to run in Armenia’s upcoming presidential election.
Zurabian can be heard complaining to Oskanian about HAK members opposed to any electoral alliances between Ter-Petrosian’s bloc and the BHK. He singles out the most famous of them, outspoken parliament deputies Hrant Bagratian and Nikol Pashinian. He warns that they could openly act against the HAK strategy if Ter-Petrosian decides not run for president. They could be helped by other prominent oppositionists who left the HAK earlier this year in protest against its cooperation with Tsarukian’s party, Zurabian says, adding that the opposition alliance could be thrust into turmoil as a result.
In separate written statements, Zurabian and Oskanian were quick to accuse the Armenian authorities of illegally wiretapping their conversation and demand a criminal investigation. Zurabian specifically pointed the finger at the NSS, saying that the former Armenian branch of the Soviet KGB executed a government order to discredit the opposition.
Pashinian also implicated the NSS in the wiretapping which he said was reminiscent of KGB practices in Soviet times. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday, he refused to comment on Zurabian’s secretly recorded comments.
Both Pashinian and Bagratian make no secret of their strong opposition to close cooperation with the BHK, saying that Tsarukian’s party remains an integral part of Armenia’s “kleptocratic” government. They also point to Tsarukian’s reputedly close ties with former President Robert Kocharian, the man who ordered a deadly crackdown on Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement in 2008.
The NSS, meanwhile, dismissed the wiretapping allegations as “unfounded.” An NSS spokesman said the feared security agency has nothing to do with the recording.
Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), also denied the allegations, while condemning the illegal surveillance. “I don’t think that Zurabian is the kind of product which should interest the NSS,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Neither is Oskanian.”
But Alexander Arzumanian, a former Ter-Petrosian ally who now leads another opposition party, was unconvinced. “This is the KGB style,” he said of the wiretap. “If the NSS didn’t do that, then someone else committed a crime. The NSS must open a criminal case and thereby prove that it was not involved.”
Arzumanian’s own phone conversations with Ter-Petrosian and other opposition members during the March 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan were wiretapped and publicized in a similar fashion four years ago. The NSS was likewise accused of involvement at the time.