Samvel Babayan, a retired general who wants to run for president of Nagorno-Karabakh, on Monday claimed to have been “illegally” stripped of Karabakh citizenship over a decade ago.
“We are going to court so that they restore it,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Babayan said he only Sunday found out that he ceased to be a Karabakh citizen in 2006 and is therefore not eligible to run in a presidential election that will be held in the unrecognized republic next year. “They had no right to strip me [of the citizenship,]” he said, citing Karabakh laws.
The authorities in Stepanakert did not immediately confirm the information. “I am hearing about that for the first time,” said a senior aide to Bako Sahakian, the outgoing Karabakh president.
Babayan, 53, was the commander of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army during and after the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. He was widely regarded as the unrecognized republic’s most powerful man at that time.
Babayan was arrested in 2000 and subsequently sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly masterminding a botched attempt on the life of the then Karabakh president, Arkady Ghukasian. He was set free in 2004 and has lived in Armenia and Russia since then.
Babayan expressed his desire to join the Karabakh presidential race earlier this month. He said he will start collecting in March signatures of local residents in a bid to circumvent a legal provision that bars him from running for president.
The Karabakh constitution stipulates that only those individuals who have resided in Karabakh for the past 10 years can participate in the 2020 presidential election.
Speaking from Stepanakert, Babayan also claimed that the local authorities are now trying to obstruct the signature collection aimed at removing that constitutional clause. “I wouldn’t like to see upheavals, people taking to the streets, fighting and so on in Karabakh … But if they go for an escalation I won’t back down because there is no alternative,” he warned.
Babayan is specifically protesting against rules for collecting the signatures which were set by the Central Election Commission in Stepanakert on February 18. In a weekend statement, his office said those rules are unconstitutional and aimed at precluding his presidential bid.
Karabakh officials dismissed the claims.