Vitaly Balasanian, one of Nagorno-Karabakh’s top security officials, was relieved of his duties on Tuesday one month after criticizing Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and bitterly arguing with his press secretary.
Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, dismissed Balasanian as secretary of his national security council in a series of decrees that also named another retired army general, Levon Mnatsakanian, as chief of the Karabakh police.
Mnatsakanian is the former commander of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army. He was sacked in December after Pashinian accused Karabakh leaders of “meddling” in Armenian parliamentary elections.
Sahakian’s spokesman, Davit Babayan, insisted that Balasanian himself decided to resign because he wants to be “involved” in a presidential election which is due to be held in Karabakh next year. “He decided to enter the political scene and more actively participate in that electoral process,” Babayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Balasanian is expected to be one of the main candidates in that election. He had already been Sahakian’s main challenger in a presidential ballot held in 2012.
Earlier this month, Balasanian publicly scoffed at Pashinian’s confidence-building understandings reached with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. He also criticized Armenian authorities for not heeding the current and former Karabakh leaders’ calls for the release of Armenia’s indicted former President Robert Kocharian from prison.
Those remarks sparked a war of words between Balasanian and Pashinian’s press secretary, Vladimir Karapetian. An Armenian newspaper report claimed on Monday that Pashinian has since been pressing Sahakian to sack his security chief.
The Armenian prime minister last week accused unnamed Karabakh leaders of spreading false claims about significant territorial concessions to Azerbaijan planned by his government.
Babayan denied, however, any connection between Pashinian’s statements and Balasanian’s dismissal. “Please do not link [the two things,] do not look for an intrigue,” said the Karabakh official.
Balasanian, 60, is a retired army general who had played a major role during the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. He announced on May 30 that he has set up a “pan-Armenian” political movement called For Artsakh.