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Former Armenian Security Chief Insists On Regime Change


Armenia -- Former National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsian is interviewed by Armenian newspaper editors, Yerevan, February 5, 2020.

Artur Vanetsian, the former National Security Service (NSS) director leading a new opposition party, on Tuesday reaffirmed his plans to try to oust Armenia’s current government and said he may organize street protests for that purpose.

Vanetsian said regime change is the principal aim of his Hayrenik (Fatherland) party’s continuing “very active discussions” with two other major opposition groups: the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).

“[Prime Minister] Nikol Pashinian’s and his government’s every new day in power is ruinous for Armenia,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service in an interview. “We are ready to cooperate with almost all political forces over this agenda.”

Asked about the possibility of anti-government protests, he said: “Rallies and other mass protests are an integral part of a political process. We will definitely use that instrument if need be and at the right moment.”

Vanetsian predicted in late July that “very active political processes” possibly involving street protests will unfold in Armenia soon. He sounded more cautious on that score on Tuesday.

“A politically heated autumn is definitely expected but I wouldn’t link times of the year with politics,” he said. “For us, for the Hayrenik party, the last few months have already been heated.”

Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (L) and National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsian visit the Football Academy in Yerevan, March 25, 2019.
Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (L) and National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsian visit the Football Academy in Yerevan, March 25, 2019.

Vanetsian, 40, was appointed as head of the NSS immediately the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” that brought Pashinian to power. He quickly became an influential member of Pashinian’s entourage, overseeing high-profile corruption investigations initiated by Armenia’s new leadership.

Vanetsian resigned in September 2019 after falling out with the prime minister for still unclear reasons. He has since repeatedly accused Pashinian of incompetence and misrule, prompting angry responses from the premier and his political allies. Some of them have accused the former NSS chief of cooperating with the country’s former rulers overthrown in 2018.

In late June, Hayrenik, the BHK and Dashnaktsutyun pledged to work together in challenging the government. The move followed criminal charges brought against BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian. The latter rejects them as politically motivated.

Armenia -- The Hayrenik party led by former National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsian holds a founding congress, Yerevan, May 31, 2020.
Armenia -- The Hayrenik party led by former National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsian holds a founding congress, Yerevan, May 31, 2020.

Addressing supporters on August 28, Tsarukian again criticized the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and other policies. He also announced plans to hold a “big rally” soon.

A Dashnaktsutyun leader, Ishkhan Saghatelian, also remained critical of Pashinian’s administration when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Tuesday. Saghatelian claimed that the prime minister has failed to deliver on his promises given to Armenians during the 2018 revolution. The current authorities can boast of very few tangible achievements, he said.

Pashinian and his political team will strongly disagree. They say, among other things, that they have significantly strengthened the rule of law and successfully addressed widespread corruption in the country.

Vanetsian scoffed at such statements, claiming credit for the most important corruption cases opened since 2018.

“Let them give a single example of any corrupt former official brought to justice after my resignation,” he said. “I can list several cases where individuals arrested and prosecuted by me have been set free and are now freely moving around Armenia.”

Vanetsian had overseen the NSS’s corruption investigations into former President Serzh Sarkisian’s notorious brother Aleksandr and former chief bodyguard Vachagan Ghazarian. The ex-president and his fugitive son-in-law Mikael Minasian were indicted on separate corruption charges after Vanetsian’s resignation. Both men strongly deny the accusations.

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