Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian on Tuesday accused Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) of using threats and intimidation to try to recruit as informers two senior members of his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
Hovannisian said that they were elected to Zharangutyun’s governing board at a party congress held on June 28. He identified only one of them: Hrayr Manukian.
Manukian posted on the Internet on July 3 what he called audio of his conversation at a Yerevan café with a man who presented himself as an NSS officer. The man can be heard saying that the Zharangutyun activist, who will turn 27 next month, and his family will face grave “consequences” if he refuses to secretly collaborate with the former Armenian branch of the Soviet KGB.
“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. “With your fancy [university] diploma and knowledge … you would at best hope to work as a guard at a bakery.”
Manukian, who is also an economics writer for the Araratnews.am publication, claimed on Tuesday that he was introduced to the “NSS officer” by Narek Araxman-Manukian, an adviser to Education Minister Armen Ashotian. “I was meeting with Narek,” he said. “Vlad Hakobian joined us ‘by accident’ shortly afterwards.”
The young activist spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after lodging a formal complaint with the Office of the Prosecutor-General. He wants the prosecutors investigate what he considers illegal NSS actions.
Hovannisian also demanded an official investigation at a separate news conference in Yerevan. “I am dismayed by the fact that this unelected government led by Mr. [Serzh] Sarkisian is seeking to bully new members of [Zharangutyun’s] board with threats and attempts to recruit them,” he said.
The U.S.-born politician, who was Sarkisian’s main challenger in Armenia’s last presidential election, drew parallels between the ex-KGB’s alleged recruitment attempt and the Watergate scandal in the United States. “When such a thing happened in America in the 1970s … the consequence was impeaching proceedings and a resignation [of President Richard Nixon,]” he said. “I think this a Watergate.”
The NSS has declined to comment on the scandal so far. For his part, Education Minister Ashotian, who is also a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, shrugged off Hovannisian’s statements.