By Emil Danielyan
A hardline Armenian organization of war veterans has expressed confidence that General Samvel Babayan, the jailed former commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh army, will be released soon. In a statement issued on Friday, it urged Babayan supporters in Armenia and Karabakh to remain “patient” and avoid unspecified “extreme actions.”
The statement by the Committee to Protect Liberated Territories came on the second anniversary of the ex-commander’s arrest for his alleged role in the March 2000 attempt on the life of Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian. A Stepanakert court convicted Babayan of masterminding the assault and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. The general, who was once the unrecognized republic’s most powerful man, denied any involvement in the attack, rejecting the charges as politically motivated.
“We are convinced that justice will prevail and Samvel Babayan will soon enjoy freedom,” the staunchly pro-Babayan group said without elaborating on reasons for its optimism. Nor was it clear why the committee urged his “comrades-in-arms” to show restraint.
Armenian President Robert Kocharian, who was Karabakh’s wartime leader, hinted last November that the general may eventually be granted a pardon. But earlier this month Ghukasian effectively denied Kocharian’s claims that Yerevan and Stepanakert have been discussing Babayan’s fate.
The committee slammed Ghukasian for his uncompromising attitude towards Babayan. It said the Karabakh leader, who was heavily wounded in the 2000 shooting, “has never found the strength to assess the situation soberly and stand above personal motives.”
Babayan was Ghukasian’s main political opponent before his arrest. The committee shares the general’s opposition to major concessions to Azerbaijan, including the return of the occupied Azerbaijani territories surrounding Karabakh.