Former Deputy Defense Minister Vahan Shirkhanian says has been summoned to the National Security Service (NSS) and the Special Investigative Service (SIS) for clarifications on an open letter containing serious allegations against former President Robert Kocharian that he published earlier this year.
“They wanted some clarifications, which they got. That’s it,” Shirkhanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Thursday.
Shirkhanian is believed to have been a figure close to Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, who was assassinated along with several other senior government officials in an attack on the Armenian parliament in 1999.
In March Shirkhanian, who served as deputy defense minister in the 1990s, made allegations against Kocharian that also related to the 1999 parliament shootout. In particular, he accused the then president of a cover-up, claiming that Kocharian deliberately delayed talks with the ringleader of the terrorist group that seized the parliament building “in order that all wounded inside died.”
Among Shirkhanian’s other allegations against Kocharian are those related to forcing 35,000 Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia in 1992, rigging elections in 1998, causing damage to Armenia in the amount of $2 billion and considering a territorial swap with Azerbaijan as part of a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Shirkhanian continues to insist that what was presented in his open letter is true.
The NSS reported no additional information on the matter to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service today. The SIS reminded that still in April it refused to open a criminal case regarding alleged falsification of the 1998 presidential election mentioned in Shirkhanian’s letter. The SIS reported no other information today.
Kocharian, who is currently in pretrial detention on charges stemming from his alleged role in the 2008 post-election crackdown on the opposition, has not yet publicly responded to Shirkhanian’s letter. But in a memoir published in 2018 the ex-president claimed that Shirkhanian tried to use the shock assassination of Vazgen Sargsian to replace him as head of state.
In 2015, Shirkhanian was arrested and charged with plotting to seize power together with members of a clandestine militant group led by Artur Vartanian, an obscure man who had reportedly lived in Spain for many years. He, Vartanian and about two dozen other individuals went on trial a few months later.
The NSS said at the time that Vartanian and his associates drew up detailed plans for the seizure of the presidential administration, government, parliament, Constitutional Court and state television buildings in Yerevan. It claimed that Shirkhanian agreed to participate in the alleged plot and suggested in 2015 that the armed group assassinate then President Serzh Sarkisian, instead of focusing on the seizure of the key state buildings.
Shirkhanian denied the accusations as politically motivated. He was released from custody in June 2018 pending the outcome of the high-profile trial. Vartanian and core members of his group remain behind bars.