As anticipated, the military rivals of President Robert Kocharian are now moving to deprive the president of his control of Armenian National Television (ANTV), one of Kocharian’s few remaining bastions (see the Monitor, November 17). The Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office had Harutiun Harutiunian, deputy director of ANTV, arrested on January 5 and criminally charged on January 7 with involvement in the assassination of Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and other Armenian leaders by Nairi Hunanian’s terrorist group on October 27. That massacre led to the elevation of Vazgen Sarkisian’s brother Aram as military-backed prime minister and to a political offensive by the Sarkisian camp against Kocharian’s (see the Monitor, October 28, November 1, 3, 8, 18, 24; Fortnight in Review, November 5, December 3, 1999).
Harutiunian was seized on the premises of the government’s information department–an office directly subordinated to Aram Sarkisian–where Harutiunian had been summoned under an innocuous pretense. The head of that office, Tigran Hakobian, is the author of a recent proposal to the cabinet of ministers to reorganize ANTV so as to reduce Kocharian’s influence there. ANTV’s General Director, Tigran Naghdalian, promptly denounced the arrest and indictment of Harutiunian as politically motivated. The television’s pro-Kocharian management has set up a Public Committee in Defense of Harutiun Harutiunian.
Harutiunian is concurrently one of the leaders of the Armenian National Scouts’ Association (ANSA), which is closely linked with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF-Dashnaksutiun). The indictment of Harutiunian can therefore also be seen as an oblique warning to the ARF, whose leaders have cautiously tilted toward Kocharian in the ongoing power struggle. ANSA lost no time in issuing a strong statement in Harutiunian’s defense. Dashnak leader Vahan Hovhanissian, moreover–departing from the party’s usual caution–criticized the prosecutors’ handling of the entire investigation and the series of arrests made on poorly substantiated charges. Twelve individuals, including independent parliamentary deputy Mushegh Movsisian, have thus far been detained, in addition to the five terrorists.
The detention of Harutiun Harutiunian is the second setback of this type which Kocharian has recently suffered. Shortly before Christmas, the president’s foreign policy adviser and long-time confidant, Alexan Harutiunian (no relation to Harutiun) was similarly arrested by the Military Prosecutor’s Office and charged with complicity in the October 27 assassination. Kocharian and his remaining supporters protested in vain against that action as well. The prosecution is suggesting that the arrested officials were implicated by Hunanian’s terrorists while the latter were being interrogated, and that further arrests are in the offing. The presidential camp has hinted rather strongly that the prosecution is misusing the investigation for political purposes as part of the Sarkisian camp’s bid for total power. Many local observers subscribe to that view, also suspecting that violence or blackmail are being used against the Hunanian group in order to extract false confessions. Chief Military Prosecutor Khachig Jahangirian, an anti-Kocharian figure, is conducting the investigation in complete secrecy.
Kocharian has registered a setback in his native Karabakh as well. On January 7, Karabakh president Arkady Gukasian appointed Major-General Seiran Ohanian as commander of the Karabakh army, which post Ohanian will hold concurrently with that of defense minister of Karabakh. Ohanian is a supporter of the Sarkisian camp and the Yerevan military. He replaces Lieutenant-General Samvel Babaian, the long-time defense minister and army commander of Karabakh, who lost those two posts in July and December 1999 after falling out with the Sarkisians (see the Monitor, June 30, July 6, 16, December 20, 1999). Gukasian, Kocharian’s successor as president of Karabakh, has scant reason to support him in view of Kocharian’s having demonstrated his readiness to settle the conflict over Karabakh on mutually acceptable terms with Azerbaijan. Gukasian and other Karabakh officials have openly criticized Kocharian after each round of his negotiations with Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev.
The promising Kocharian-Aliev negotiations have remained at a standstill since the October 27, after which terrorist assault the pro-Russian military hierarchy of Armenia and their civilian figurehead Armen Sarkisian launched their challenge to Kocharian. Unfortunately for the prospects of those negotiations, a number of actual or potential supporters of Kocharian–such as the Country of Laws and Right and Accord parties, the Dashnaks, and indeed Babaian–take an uncompromising line on Karabakh.
Meanwhile, in a scarcely noticed development, Armenia has taken a further step down the path of the politics of hereditary succession. The People’s Party, allied with the Republican Party in the bipartite governing bloc Unity, held a congress over Christmas and elected Stepan Demirchian as its chairman. Stepan is the son of Karen Demirchian, the parliamentary chairman and People’s Party leader who was slain in the October 27 terrorist assault (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Armenian Television, January 6-8).
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