Artur Vanetsian, the former head of Armenia’s most powerful security service, has announced his entry into active politics, saying that he will set up a party to challenge Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government.
In an interview with the editors of nine Armenian newspapers publicized on Thursday, Vanetsian said the party will strive to disprove government claims that the country’s former leaders are the main political rivals of the current authorities.
“A very important practice has emerged in Armenia, which is called dividing the society into [pro-government political] whites and [opposition] blacks,” he said. “I think that it’s a false political agenda that has been brought to our landscape; a political agenda whereby the former rulers are the alternative to the current authorities. I can assure you that there is no such thing.”
“There will be no return to the past,” added Vanetsian. “I am someone who will be fighting against a return to the past.”
Pashinian appointed Vanetsian as director of the National Security Service (NSS), the former Armenian branch of the Soviet KGB, immediately after coming to power in the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018.
Vanetsian worked as a deputy chief of the NSS’s Yerevan division up until the revolution. He quickly became one of the most influential members of Pashinian’s entourage, overseeing a number of high-profile corruption investigations launched by the new authorities.
Vanetsian was unexpectedly relieved of his duties in September just a couple of months after being promoted to the rank of NSS general. He criticized Pashinian’s “impulsive” leadership style following his dismissal, triggering a bitter war of words with the premier.
Vanetsian, 40, claimed in his interview that he himself decided to step down. He said his refusal to “participate in developments unfolding around the Constitutional Court” was one of the main reasons for that decision. He referred to controversial government efforts to replace the court’s chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian, and six other justices.
The former NSS chief also pointed to the latest concerns voiced by Council of Europe officials over the Armenian government’s and parliament’s standoff with the high court judges. “That is a very serious issue for us also in terms of national security because it relates to our country’s international standing,” he said.
Pashinian’s public feud with Vanetsian was reignited last month by the “Haykakan Zhamanak” newspaper controlled by the prime minister’s family. In an extensive article, the paper accused him of organizing a smear campaign against Pashinian’s family allegedly conducted by anti-government media. Hrachya Hakobian, a pro-government parliamentarian and Pashinian’s brother-in-law, alleged afterwards that Vanetsian was fired in September because he was plotting a coup.
Pashinian stated later in January that Armenian security services have thwarted a “hybrid” anti-government conspiracy hatched by current and former officials.
Vanetsian denounced the “Haykakan Zhamanak” article as slanderous. He went on to call on the ruling Civil Contract party to consider installing a new prime minister.
“A person who attempted a coup d’état should have been placed in an appropriate institution,” Vanetsian told the editors of other publications. “Of course I did not have such a desire.”
Armen Grigorian, the secretary of Armenia’s Security Council and a Pashinian ally, scoffed at Vanetsian’s declared entry into politics later on Thursday. Grigorian described him as an “echo of the past” who will hardly attract a large following.