One week after announcing his entry into politics, Artur Vanetsian, the former chief of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS), has filed a defamation lawsuit against a newspaper controlled by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s family.
In an unsigned article published last month, the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily alleged that Vanetsian is behind slanderous reports about Pashinian and his family members spread by anti-government media. It said the main “ideologist” of this campaign is a former senior official linked to Mikael Minasian, former President Serzh Sarkisian’s son-in-law.
Pashinian’s 21-year-old daughter Mariam added her voice to the allegations. The prime minister likewise charged later in January that the alleged smear campaign was part of what he called a “hybrid” conspiracy to discredit and overthrow him.
Vanetsian strongly denied the allegations and demanded that the paper, which is still officially run by Pashinian’s wife Anna Hakobian, retract them. One of his lawyers, Aramazd Kivirian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Wednesday that he has sued the paper because it rejected the demand.
“Haykakan Zhamanak” declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The former NSS director suggested last week that the paper, which Pashinian had long edited before being first elected to the Armenian parliament in 2012, intended to “slander” him, rather than reveal any scandalous facts. “If they had any facts and needed to verify them they would have taken certain steps,” he told the editors of nine other Armenian publications.
Pashinian appointed Vanetsian as director of the former Armenian branch of the Soviet KGB immediately after coming to power in the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018. Vanetsian quickly became one of the most influential members of the Armenia’s new leadership, overseeing a number of high-profile corruption investigations.
The 40-year-old 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.
Hrachya Hakobian, a pro-government parliamentarian and Pashinian’s brother-in-law, claimed shortly after the “Haykakan Zhamanak” article that Vanetsian was sacked because of plotting a coup. The NSS said, however, that it is not aware of any coup attempts and will not look into Hakobian’s claims.
Speaking to the newspaper editors on February 5, Vanetsian announced that he is setting up a new political party to challenge Pashinian’s government.