Ghoukassian Fires Karabakh Army Commander; Tensions Continue to Rise

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–General Samvel Babayan–the commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces–was fired by president Arkady Ghoukassian who reported that a presidential decree to that effect was signed early Friday–three days after a simmering discord between the two men flared up into an open confrontation.

The move–which is bound to have far-reaching ramifications for Karabakh politics–appeared to have been taken with Armenia’s blessing. However–tension still ran high in Stepanakert throughout the day–with deputies of the Karabakh parliament supporting Babayan unsuccessfully trying to call an emergency session to discuss the situation.

The Karabakh Defense Army Commander–Lieutenant-General Samvel Babayan has been relieved of his duties–the Karabakh President’s Press Service reports.

The same source announced that Assistant Army Commander Colonel Movses Hakobian has been appointed Acting Commander of the Karabakh Defense Army.

The standoff was sparked by a brawl on Tuesday between Babayan and the Karabakh premier Anushavan Danielian–a key Ghoukassian ally. Danielian was allegedly assaulted on the street by the Karabakh army chief and was said to have suffered minor injuries. The alleged attack was condemned by the Karabakh government.

Ghoukassian had enraged Babayan several days before the incident–telling reporters that the latter is not qualified to deal with political and economic matters.

Armenian Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian has been in Stepanakert since the beginning of the week–looking for ways to end the standoff. "I agree with you and am happy that our views coincide," he was quoted by the Karabakh president’s press office as telling government members and pro-Ghoukassian lawmakers on Thursday.

Harutiunian has reportedly offered Babayan to step down and was still in Stepanakert after the signing of the presidential decree. There were no public statemen’s by Babayan following the official announcement of his ouster. One of his deputies–Colonel Movses Hakobian–was named acting army commander.

Babayan and Ghoukassian have been locked in an increasingly bitter dispute over the past several months. Babayan–who led Karabakh Armenian forces to victory in the war against Azerbaijan five years ago–until recently had substantial political clout. Ghoukassian has managed to limit the ambitious general’s influence on political and economic affairs since last June.

Meanwhile–the Karabakh parliament on Friday failed to make a quorum for an emergency session demanded by 15 deputies allied with Babayan. They denounced the apparent boycott by 17 other mostly pro-presidential deputies. One of the lawmakers–Nerses Ohanjian–charged that the session was deliberately disrupted by Ghoukassian and parliament speaker Oleg Yesayan. A group of senior army officers was seen entering Yesayan’s office shortly afterwards. The top brass of the Karabakh army issued a statement on Wednesday–blaming both Babayan and Ghoukassian for the crisis and demanding a fresh presidential election. The Karabakh president has said he will not quit.

The Press Service of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic Parliament issued a statement in which parliament members condemn the December 14 incident of an attack on Karabakh Prime Minister Anushavan Danielian provoked by Karabakh Defense Army commander Samvel Babayan. Below is the statement as reported by the Noyan Tapan news agency.

"We–the undersigned–express our serious concern over the current domestic political situation in the country that was aggravated by the incident that occurred with Prime Minister Anushavan Danielian on December 14.

"We condemn the steps aimed at destabilizing the statehood and do not share the destructive position that some of our colleagues have expressed in their statemen’s.

"We–members of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic National Assembly are supporting Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukassian’s policy aimed at establishing law and order and democracy in the country.

"At the same time we urge all political forces–mass media and the population to show restraint and abstain from steps destabilizing the current situation."

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