NSS officers searched the office and the apartment of Kajaran Mayor Manvel Paramazian in the morning before taking him to Yerevan for unknown reasons. The security agency did not explain their actions in the following hours.
Paramazian’s lawyer, Yervand Varosian, said in the evening that he is still unaware of his client’s whereabouts or the reason for his detention.
“I’ve only heard something ludicrous: someone had bought some land and resold it to I don’t know whom,” Varosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Paramazian was already briefly arrested last December on kidnapping and assault charges denied by him. An Armenian court is scheduled to start his trial on Monday.
Varosian suggested that the authorities are keen to bring more charges against the opposition-linked mayor because they realize that the court is unlikely to convict him.
“All this became predictable after the Hayastan bloc won the majority of votes in Kajaran,” the lawyer said, referring to the snap parliamentary elections held on June 20.
Paramazian has run Kajaran, an industrial town in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province, since 2016. He was among the heads of more than a dozen provincial communities who issued late last year statements condemning Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s handling of the autumn war with Azerbaijan and demanding his resignation.
Two other Syunik mayors were also indicted late last year. One of them, Arush Arushanian, runs a community comprising the town of Goris and surrounding villages.
Arushanian was questioned on Wednesday by another law-enforcement agency, the Special Investigative Service (SIS), in connection with this week’s arrest of a local official heading one of those villages, Karahunj.
The official, Lusine Avetian, was charged with ordering five Karahunj residents to vote for Hayastan after allocating financial assistance to them from the local government budget. It was not clear if she will plead guilty to the accusation.
According to some Armenian media outlets, SIS investigators are trying to get Avetian to implicate Arushanian in the alleged pressure exerted on the voters. Arushanian’s lawyer, Erik Aleksanian, did not rule out such a possibility, saying that the charges leveled against the village chief are politically motivated.
The Goris municipality insisted, for its part, that Avetian was not in a position to give any cash handouts. It said such decisions could only be made by a municipal commission headed by Arushanian.
The embattled Syunik mayors and a former provincial governor, Vahe Hakobian, lead an opposition party affiliated with Hayastan, the official runner-up in the June 20 elections. Hakobian is also a major shareholder in the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC), a mining giant employing more than 4,000 people, many of them Kajaran residents.
News reports quoted Hakobian as saying that NSS officers also searched on Thursday morning the ZCMC offices. He said they detained one of the company executives. The NSS did not confirm or deny that.
During the election campaign Pashinian vowed to crack down on ZCMC’s “corrupt” owners and wage “political vendettas” against local government officials supporting the opposition. His political allies demanded after the elections that those elected mayors step down. They pointed to official vote results that showed the ruling Civil Contract party scoring a landslide victory.
Meanwhile, Hayastan, which is headed by former President Robert Kocharian issued a statement on Thursday condemning the continuing “repressions” against its members and saying that they will “further deepen the political crisis” in Armenia.
“The purpose of these illegal actions is clear: to weaken the [new] parliament’s largest opposition group and distract it from its efforts to confront internal and external threats facing the country,” said the statement. It said Kocharian’s bloc will continue to challenge the “regime that has brought the country to a disaster.”