Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) moved on Wednesday to interrogate a senior representative of the opposition Republican Party (HHK) who has harshly criticized Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian during the ongoing parliamentary election campaign.
The NSS cited allegations made by Davit Shahnazarian, a veteran politician running for the parliament on the HHK ticket, on November 27 and December 4.
In particular, Shahnazarian slammed one of Pashinian’s close associates, Sasun Mikaelian, for saying that the success of this spring’s “velvet revolution” in Armenia was more important than the Armenian victory in the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. He charged that Mikaelian’s statement reflects Pashinian’s readiness to give up Armenian control over Karabakh.
Shahnazarian likewise accused the current government of pursuing an “anti-Karabakh policy” when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday.
In a statement, the NSS said that these statements amount to accusations of high treason addressed to the government and Pashinian in particular. They have be investigated by an NSS division tasked with protecting the constitutional order, it said.
Therefore, the statement added, Shahnazarian has been “invited” to visit the NSS and substantiate his allegations.
Shahnazarian, who ran the NSS from 1994-1995, was quick to accuse the authorities of trying to intimidate him and other HHK candidates running in the December 9 general elections. He said Pashinian should publicly disprove his claims instead of telling the country’s most powerful security agency to “persecute” him.
“There are no law-enforcement structures in Armenia right now. There are only punitive structures that have nothing to do with the state and only protect Pashinian’s interests,” Shahnazarian told a news conference held at the HHK headquarters in Yerevan.
“This is an act of political persecution directed not just at me,” he said. “This is an attempt to intimidate those people -- and there many of them -- who are going to vote for the Republican Party.”
Accordingly, Shahnazarian said he will ignore the NSS summons. “You can arrest me,” he declared.
Pashinian, meanwhile, defended the NSS move. “In essence, he accused us of plotting, together with some forces, a conspiracy against Artsakh (Karabakh), Armenia and the Armenian people,” the premier told reporters. “So what should the National Security Service do? It should collect materials and … if this is how the revolution took place it should identify those plotters and hold them accountable.”
At a campaign rally held over the weekend, Pashinian ordered the NSS and Armenian military intelligence to “deal with” his detractors making “false” statements on his Karabakh-related policies. He spoke of “treacherous warmongers” and “some forces attempting to take subversive actions in our army’s rear.” They might be “agents of foreign influence,” he said.
Shahnazarian unexpectedly teamed up with the HHK, which is led by former President Serzh Sarkisian, following the mass protests that brought Pashinian to power in May. His name is third on the list of the former ruling party’s election candidates.
The 64-year-old had strongly criticized the Sarkisian government in the past. He has been even more critical of Pashinian in the current parliamentary race.