Samvel Babayan, a former military leader of Nagorno-Karabakh, on Monday confirmed a recent visit to Iran but insisted that it is not a sign of his renewed active involvement in Armenian politics.
A series of recent reports in Armenian newspapers critical of the government said that former President Robert Kocharian is using Babayan in his alleged efforts to return to power. They claimed that the Yerevan-based retired general would get the post of defense minister in a new government envisaged by Kocharian. Babayan was alleged to have visited Tehran recently to drum up Iranian support for that scenario.
In a written statement, Babayan’s office in Yerevan dismissed these claims. “We want to once again point out that if Samvel Babayan decides to engage in active politics, he will do that publicly, without linking that with others’ relationships and plans,” it said. “As for becoming defense minister, Babayan has never aspired and does not aspire to any [government] position.”
The statement also denounced “the spate of gossips” sparked by his trip to Iran. “Samvel Babayan did visit the Islamic Republic of Iran recently, but that visit had a private, rather than political, nature,” it said. The office did not specify whether he met any Iranian government officials there.
Kocharian similarly paid what he called a private visit to Iran in January, sparking fresh media speculation about his impending political comeback. It was only stoked by his subsequent criticism of the Armenian government’s economic policies and other public pronouncements.
While in Tehran, Kocharian met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. Visiting Yerevan later in January, Mottaki referred to those meetings as a reunion of old friends who share “good memories” of the past and “discuss prospects for the future.”
Both Babayan and Kocharian as well as President Serzh Sarkisian are natives of Nagorno-Karabakh who led the Armenian-populated region during much of its 1991-1994 secessionist war with Azerbaijan. Kocharian is believed to have had a particularly close rapport with the once powerful general.
Babayan, 45, commanded Karabakh Armenian forces from 1993-1999 and was at one point the territory’s most powerful man. He was arrested in 2000 and subsequently sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly masterminding a botched attempt on the life of Arkady Ghukasian, then president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
The former Karabakh strongman relocated to Yerevan immediately after being set free in 2004. He set up there his own political party called Dashink (Alliance) that claimed to be in opposition to the Kocharian administration but avoided closely cooperating with Armenia’s main opposition forces.
Babayan has kept a low profile on the Armenian political stage since Dashink’s poor showing in the May 2007 parliamentary elections won by Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).