Two Armenian pro-government lawmakers on Monday hit out at a senior Nagorno-Karabakh official who has traded insults with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s press secretary.
Vitaly Balasanian, a retired army general who serves as secretary of Karabakh’s Security Council, began the war of words last week when he criticized Armenian authorities for not heeding the current and former Karabakh leaders’ calls for the release of Armenia’s imprisoned former President Robert Kocharian. He made the comments in Stepanakert during official celebrations of Karabakh’s main public holiday attended by Pashinian.
Responding to them, Pashinian’s press secretary, Vladimir Karapetian, said that Balasanian should have exercised “necessary restraint.”
“Vladimir Karapetian is too little a person … to make such statements,” Balasanian shot back in an ensuing newspaper interview. “Let the Vladimir Karapetians mind their business.”
Karapetian responded by likening Balasanian to two senior members of the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) loathed by many allies and supporters of Pashinian.
Two of those allies added their voice to the criticism of the Karabakh official. “The statement by that official not only endangered our national security system but also offended our public self-esteem,” said Andranik Kocharian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security. “He must not do such things.”
Ruben Rubinian, who heads the parliament’s foreign relations committee, described Balasanian’s statements as “unfortunate.” “Unfortunate for Mr. Balasanian,” he added at a joint news conference with Kocharian.
Balasanian was a prominent field commander during the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. He is now seen as one of the potential main candidates in a presidential election which is due to be held in Karabakh next year.
Pashinian raised more questions about his relationship with the Karabakh leadership on his return from Stepanakert. “If some people try to turn Artsakh (Karabakh) into a hotbed of counterrevolution, the people of Artsakh will turn it into a hotbed of revolution,” he wrote on Facebook late on May 9. He did not elaborate.
It is not clear whether Pashinian warned Balasanian or HHK leader and former President Serzh Sarkisian. The latter was also in Karabakh last week, attending events together with Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership.
While in Stepanakert Sarkisian was interviewed by Karabakh state television. He spoke only about the 1991-1994 war, avoiding any comments on political developments in Karabakh or Armenia.
Pashinian publicly lambasted Karabakh leaders in November during Armenia’s parliamentary election campaign. One of his close associates, Sasun Mikaelian, declared at a campaign rally that last spring’s protest movement that brought Pashinian to power was more important than the Armenian victory in the war.
Mikaelian’s remark was condemned by Armenian opposition politicians as well as senior officials in Stepanakert, including a spokesman for General Levon Mnatsakanian, the then commander of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army.
Pashinian accused the Karabakh leadership of misinterpreting Mikaelian’s statement and “meddling” in the Armenian parliamentary race. Mnatsakanian was sacked in December.