Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 137

The power struggle between Karabakh president Arkady Gukasian and military leader Lieutenant-General Samvel Babayan has turned into a protracted standoff. Gukasian triggered the standoff on June 24 by dismissing the pro-Babayan prime minister Jirair Poghosian’s government, including Babayan as defense minister. Gukasian then appointed a new cabinet under Anushavan Danielyan, with Yerevan’s discrete blessing (see the Monitor, June 30, July 6), but the defense minister’s post remains vacant. The power struggle has, meanwhile, spread to all civil and military institutions and invited open involvement by the Yerevan government in the Stepanakert events.

Poghosian has been indicted on criminal charges by the pro-Gukasian office of the prosecutor general. The charges are “loss of a confidential state document” and unauthorized possession of a weapon. No mention is made of the accusation initially leveled against Poghosian–namely, that he had had a listening device planted in Gukasian’s office. That changing story and the vagueness of the indictment suggest a politically motivated case.

A communique by eleven top commanders of the Karabakh army–which is rated as the strongest in the South Caucasus–has accused Gukasian of lying to the public about his meeting with them. While Gukasian’s official account claimed that they had expressed support for the president, the commanders retorted that they had in fact criticized Gukasian for moving against the government. The highly decorated commanders returned their medals to Gukasian in protest, and Babayan followed their example.

Gukasian’s appointment of a new internal affairs minister has been met with open discontent by police officers and led to the dismissal or forced resignation of two deputy ministers of internal affairs. Babayan’s brother, Karen, seeks control over some police units in his current capacity as mayor of Stepanakert. Karen Babayan is a former minister of internal affairs, appears to retain influence in that ministry and has been publicizing the current dissent in the police force.

The Karabakh legislature is split between Babayan’s supporters–who seek to call a special session and pass a resolution in his favor–and another group which has managed to block that move, short of openly supporting Gukasian. During the past year, a majority in the legislature has frustrated Gukasian’s attempts to take over the prime minister’s post or merge it with that of president. Both sides to the power struggle in Karabakh seem careful to avoid an uncontrolled escalation (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Armenpress, Azg, Respublika Armenia, July 6-15).