Political Tensions Escalate in Karabakh

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)–Law-enforcement officials in Nagorno-Karabakh on Saturday neither denied nor confirmed growing reports that former prime minister Jirayr Poghosian–fired last week–may face criminal charges.

Other well-informed sources in Stepanakert said a criminal case has been opened against Poghosian over his suspected involvement in an illegal surveillance scandal.

Officials in the administration of Nagorno-Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukassian have told RFE/RL before that a surveillance device was found in his office hours before he fired Poghosian and his cabinet. Speaking to Armenian state television on Friday–Ghoukassian said an official inquiry will establish whether his office was bugged.

The official explanation for the change of government was the failure of its economic policy–harshly criticized by Ghoukassian. Some analysts in Yerevan have suggested that the latest developmen’s in Karabakh are part of a power struggle between Ghoukassian and the disputed region’s powerful defense minister–General Samvel Babayan.

The Karabakh leader on Friday acknowledged that the ex-premier’s behavior was greatly influenced by Babayan but added that the latter will be offered to keep his present post.

The newly appointed Karabakh prime minister–Anushavan Danielian–is a Ukrainian citizen of Armenian origin. Some of the previous ministers will serve in Danielian’s cabinet but those who have close links with Poghosian are unlikely to stay on. In a related development–Ghoukassian has already dismissed two presumably pro-Poghosian heads of local administrations.

Police in Nagorno-Karabakh were put on alert on the night of July 4-5 amid signs of rising political tension in the Armenian-populated region following last month’s sacking of its government. Deputies of the Karabakh parliament were collecting signatures throughout Monday for an emergency session–in what may be an attempt to oust the self-proclaimed republic’s newly appointed prime minister.

A senior official in the Karabakh interior ministry told RFE/RL that the entire police personnel in Stepanakert was called up to the Karabakh capital’s central square the previous night and ordered to tighten security around government buildings. A spokeswoman for Ghoukassian refused to give any explanations of the move.

There was no visibly enhanced police presence in Stepanakert for the rest of the day–but rumors grew that the police personnel is unhappy with the newly appointed interior minister–Artur Aghabekian. Aghabekian’s two deputies have already resigned for unknown reasons.

Some analysts in Yerevan view the latest developmen’s in Stepanakert as part of a power struggle between Ghoukassian and powerful Defense Minister Samvel Babayan.

A senior Karabakh lawmaker told RFE/RL that a "large number" of deputies have signed a demand to hold an emergency session of the parliament. But he declined to say what could be on the session’s agenda. Parliament speaker Oleg Yesayan and Ghoukassian met on Monday–but no details were given. The Karabakh legislature stood by General Babayan during a similar government crisis one year ago.

The political situation in Nagorno-Karabakh was still gripped by uncertainty on Tuesday despite pledges from senior officials in Stepanakert to overcome what increasingly looks like a serious government crisis.

Government sources told RFE/RL that Ghoukassian and Babayan–apparently embroiled in a power struggle–agreed to defuse political tensions resulting from last month’s change of government.

The sources said the agreement was reached after a personal interference from Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian.

Danielian–told RFE/RL on Tuesday that he has received Babayan’s full backing at a meeting the day before and shrugged off reports about mounting tension in the disputed region. He said he offered Babayan–whose influence goes well beyond military matters–to remain defense minister in the new cabinet.

Police in Nagorno-Karabakh were put on alert on Monday night and ordered to tighten security around government buildings amid rumors that the police personnel is unhappy with the newly appointed interior minister–Artur Aghabekian. Aghabekian’s two deputies have already resigned for unknown reasons. But the minister claimed that except for "a group of officers" there were no acts of defiance within police ran’s.

Officials in Stepanakert also said they expect Armenia’s Kocharian–who himself was Karabakh’s wartime leader–to visit the Karabakh capital after Thursday’s funeral of Catholicos Karekin I. Kocharian’s press office denied any knowledge of such plans–however.

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