Kocharian Warns Against Challenges to Ghoukassian

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian threw his weight behind the authorities of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Wednesday–in what amounted to Yerevan’s backing of Karabakh president–Arkady Ghoukassian–in his standoff with Karabakh’s powerful army commander.

"Armenia will not act as an indifferent observer with regard to Nagorno-Karabakh if any illegal attempts are made against its legitimate authorities," Kocharian’s press secretary–Vahe Gabrielian–told RFE/RL by telephone.

The warning came as members of both rival camps in Karabakh increasingly look to Yerevan for mediation in patching up their differences.

Political tension in Karabakh has run high since the scandalous sacking of the Armenian-populated region’s previous prime minister Jirayr Poghosian and his cabinet late last month. Ghoukassian has attributed the move to the former government’s economic failures–strongly hinting at Defense Minister Samvel Babayan’s perceived bad influence on Poghosian.

Ghoukassian’s appointment of a new prime minister and interior minister has reportedly provoked a negative reaction from the Babayan camp. Kocharian’s spokesman confirmed reports that the Armenian leader–himself a native of Karabakh–has held "phone conversations" with Karabakh politicians to defuse the crisis. He declined to confirm or deny growing rumors about Kocharian’s upcoming mediation mission to Stepanakert.

Meanwhile–the crisis took a new twist on Tuesday when Babayan’s brother–who works as Stepanakert mayor–went on local television to criticize President Ghoukassian. Karen Babayan also lashed out at new Interior Minister Artur Aghabekian after the latter restructured Stepanakert’s police department to put it under a stricter subordination the ministry.

In another significant development–Ghoukassian met with the supreme commanders of the Karabakh armed forces late on Tuesday. One senior army officer–who asked not to be identified–described the meeting as a "useful dialogue."

He told RFE/RL that the commanders voiced their concerns at what they see as Ghoukassian’s "wrong staffing policy–aimed at weakening the influence of Samvel Babayan and the military." He noted that Ghoukassian–who was elected president in 1997–is a "political leader who came to power thanks to the [Karabakh] army’s victory over the enemy." Ghoukassian–the officer said–admitted "some mistakes" but added that he is unhappy with the military’s stance.

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