Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 63

Karabakh authorities and the Armenian state seem unprepared politically, legally or conceptually to deal with the latest act of internal terrorism–the March 22 assassination attempt on Karabakh’s president Arkady Gukasian (see the Monitor, March 24). Interviewed on March 27 on Armenian National Television, Karabakh prime minister Anushavan Danielian withheld any information on the state of affairs in Karabakh, claiming instead that “the situation absolutely stable, life follows its normal course and people are going about their daily lives,” that evident misrepresentation met with no challenge within the political system.

On March 24, Danielian temporarily took over the functions of president of Karabakh from the injured Gukasian. On May 27, Danielian issued an order suspending the powers of the mayor of Stepanakert, Karen Babaian, pending the outcome of the investigation into the attempt on Gukasian’s life. The brothers Karen and Lieutenant-General Samvel Babaian, leaders of the strongest local clan, are among the dozens of suspects detained in the wake of the assassination attempt. Five of those were charged on March 27 by Karabakh’s prosecutor general as “direct executants” of the assault on Gukasian; the formula seems to presage an indictment of the Babaians as organizers. Those “executants” include a brother in law and three bodyguards of Samvel Babaian. The prosecutor general’s official announcement describes them as “guilty” and as “proven criminals” in advance of any trial. Babaian’s family and some political groups, including the Right and Accord bloc which he controls in Armenia’s parliament, are demanding his release from detention. Danielian as well as the Yerevan military have ruled that out.

Danielian, 44, born to a family of Karabakh origin and raised in Georgia and southern Russia, gained a reputation in Ukraine. He entered private business in the Crimea, became one of the leaders of the Party of Economic Revival (PEV), headed the Crimean Supreme Soviet’s commission on interethnic affairs (1990-1995) and became a vice chairman of that Supreme Soviet as well as head of the Crimea’s Constitutional Commission. The Ukrainian authorities cracked down on PEV in 1998 following a series of corruption scandals and violent incidents. Danielian, as well as his associate and PEV chairman Vladimir Ilich Shevyov (Gasparian), disappeared from Ukraine’s public life. Danielian resurfaced in early 1999 in Yerevan as director of the Cable Factory there. In July of that year he became prime minister of Karabakh through appointment by Gukasian with the blessing of Armenia’s strongman, Vazgen Sarkisian, some three months prior to Sarkisian’s assassination. Danielian has functioned in Stepanakert as an ally of the Sarkisian camp and the Yerevan military in rivalry with the Babaians. Last December, Danielian was hurt in a brawl between his and Samvel Babaian’s respective retinues outside the government building in Stepanakert (see the Monitor, July 6, December 20, 1999). During the last few months, Danielian has traveled to North America and Western Europe in an effort to attract international investment in Karabakh.

Commenting recently on the phenomenon of internecine violence in Armenia and Karabakh, the Moscow-based politologist Aleksandr Iskandarian noted the absence of any tradition of political and economic competition within the framework of law. In Yerevan, Paruir Hairikian–the presidential human rights commission’s chairman–pointed to an Armenian tradition which, in his view, severely distorts today’s political processes: that of chieftains of armed groups, who used violence to defend interests and settle differences in pre-statehood times. According to Hairikian, the Armenian elite needs to overcome this mentality if it wants to normalize political and economic life in the modern state (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, March 24-28).

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