A newly retired officer of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS), who allegedly tried to recruit an opposition activist last year, has been appointed as President Serzh Sarkisian’s new press secretary.
Sarkisian’s office reported Vladimir Hakobian’s appointment at the weekend hours after the previous presidential spokesman, Arman Saghatelian, announced his resignation on social media. Saghatelian said that he has received an unspecified job offer from the private sector and decided to accept it.
A journalist by education, Hakobian, 32, has worked for the NSS, the successor agency to the Armenian branch of the Soviet KGB, for the past eight and a half years. The presidential administration has given no reasons for his appointment.
Hakobian, who has an NSS rank of major, found himself at the center of a political scandal in Armenia one year ago. A major Armenian opposition party, Zharangutyun (Heritage), accused the NSS at the time of using threats and intimidation to try to recruit as informer a young party activist, Hrayr Manukian.
Manukian, who is also an economics writer for the Araratnews.am publication, posted on the Internet in July 2014 what he called audio of his conversation at a Yerevan café with an alleged NSS officer. The latter could be heard saying that the 27-year-old activist and his family will face grave “consequences” if he refuses to secretly collaborate with the NSS.
“He who says ‘no’ to this state has no future here, this is an axiom,” warned the man who allegedly identified himself as Vlad Hakobian.
Manukian petitioned Armenian prosecutors at the time to launch a criminal investigation into what he considered illegal NSS actions. The prosecutors rejected the demand. The NSS, for its part, declined to comment on the oppositionist’s allegations.
“The new press secretary appointed by Serzh Sarkisian is the man who tried to recruit me,” Manukian told Araratnews.am. “When friends told me about that I at first didn’t believe that even in a country like ours that guy can be appointed presidential press secretary.”
Hakobian, meanwhile, would not be drawn on Manukian’s continuing allegations in comments to Armenian media outlets. The daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” on Tuesday quoted him as saying that he cannot comment on them because of “professional specificities” of his previous work.
President Sarkisian’s new spokesman also said: “Throughout my work at the National Security Service of Armenia I always acted in accordance with the requirements of Armenian legislation and government regulations.”