Artur Vanetsian, the former National Security Service (NSS) director leading an opposition party, accused the Armenian authorities of trying to “silence” him after being questioned on Friday in an investigation launched by the NSS.
Vanetsian was summoned to the NSS to explain a personnel decision which he made while running Armenia’s most powerful security agency in 2018.
An NSS spokesman, Artur Gevorgian, said he is suspected of hiring a retired 51-year-old officer and giving him a senior NSS position in breach of an Armenian law. He said the law stipulates that only individuals aged 50 or younger can be appointed to such posts. Vanetsian’s decision may have therefore amounted to an abuse of power, Gevorgian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Vanetsian flatly denied breaking the law when he spoke to journalists after spending about 30 minutes inside the NSS headquarters in Yerevan. He said he refused to give his former subordinates any explanations.
“It’s yet another fabricated and politically motivated case,” claimed Vanetsian. “For the past eight months the authorities have doing everything to prosecute me with the aim of stopping my political activities.”
“They probably have trouble reading and understanding the law,” he said. “I mean not NSS investigators but Armenia’s political leadership and the current NSS director.”
Vanetsian’s lawyer, Lusine Sahakian, insisted, for her part, that even if the alleged violation occurred it did not constitute a criminal offense.
Vanetsian was appointed as head of the NSS following the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” and quickly became an influential member of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s entourage. He resigned last September after falling out with Pashinian for still unclear reasons. The 40-year-old has since repeatedly accused Pashinian of incompetence and misrule, prompting angry responses from Pashinian and his political allies.
Hrachya Hakobian, a pro-government parliamentarian and Pashinian’s brother-in-law, denied any political persecution of Vanetsian. “Our public knows who and how has been subjected to political persecution in the past,” he said.
Vanetsian called for the prime minister’s resignation shortly before setting up an opposition party, called Hayrenik (Fatherland), in February.
In late June, Hayrenik and two other opposition parties, Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Dashnaktsutyun, pledged to work together in challenging the government and “restoring the constitutional order.” The move followed criminal charges brought against BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian. The latter rejects them as politically motivated.
Vanetsian predicted on Friday that “very active political processes,” possibly including anti-government protests, will unfold in Armenia soon.
“The authorities have failed in all spheres,” he charged. “We are facing a health crisis, an economic crisis and other problems. Instead of getting things done and solving the problems, the authorities are busy trying to silence their political opponents.”
“After the coronavirus recedes and the state of emergency is lifted, we will see what kind of protests there will be, who will take part in them and how they will be led,” countered Hakobian.