STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–The Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces deplore the firing of their influential commander–General Samvel Babayan–but will not challenge it to help the authorities in Stepanakert overcome a serious political crisis–Babayan’s successor said over the weekend.
Colonel Movses Hakobian–the acting Karabakh army commander–told RFE/RL that Babayan’s ouster has received a "very negative" reaction from his high-ranking subordinates. However–he made it clear that the Karabakh military has obeyed the decision taken last Friday by the self-proclaimed republic’s political leadership which has been locked in a bitter dispute with the ambitious general.
"We believe that we have done great deal for the success of our statehood. But in this situation–we thought that stability in the country must be maintained even if some of our opinions are not accepted," Hakobian said in a telephone call from the Karabakh capital.
Frictions between Babayan and Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukassian brewing since last June flared up into an open confrontation early last week. Babayan’s dismissal came with the tacit backing of the authorities in Armenia that have themselves been split since the October 27 killings in parliament. Armenia’s Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian was in Stepanakert for much of last week–pledging Yerevan’s support for Ghoukassian’s actions.
Meeting on Friday with members of his cabinet and the loyal majority of the Karabakh parliament–Ghoukassian praised Harutiunian for his "invaluable role in stabilizing the situation." Two days before–the top brass of the Karabakh Defense Army issued a statement blaming both Ghoukassian and Babayan for the standoff and calling for their resignation.
Col. Hakobian insisted that the army command only expressed its view and did not mean to put pressure on the authorities. "The army doesn’t have the right to demand the president’s resignation," he claimed. He also confirmed that Babayan quit immediately after the announcement of the presidential decree relieving him of his duties and did not mount any resistance to the civilian authorities as was feared by his opponents.
"Samvel Babayan did a great job for the formation of the state–and he didn’t want to place his own interests above state interests," Hakobian said.
The 34-year-old general who rose to prominence during the war with Azerbaijan has been one of the most powerful individuals in Karabakh. He has seen his influence on political and economic affairs considerably decline since last June when Ghoukassian moved to enhance his hitherto limited political role. The Karabakh president is now in full control of the cabinet and parliament.
Naira Melkoumian–foreign minister of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic–argued on Monday that the support of the majority of local lawmakers proved to be decisive for Ghoukassian who she said managed to end the crisis in accordance with the law. "The state has proved its viability," she told RFE/RL. She claimed that the "situation has stabilized" in Stepanakert despite the spread of leaflets urging the population to take to the streets in Babayan’s support.
According to acting commander Hakobian–by showing restraint–the Karabakh military aimed to "set an example" for their colleagues in Armenia proper who are perceived to be posing a major challenge to President Robert Kocharian since the recent parliament killings.
In Yerevan–leaders of the nationalist Right and Accord bloc supporting Babayan warned on Monday that the ex-commander must not be ostracized or isolated. "The number one hero of Artsakh (Karabakh) can not be killed morally," the bloc’s chairman Artashes Geghamian told reporters. He said he hopes that Babayan will "occupy a deserving place" in the Karabakh or Armenian army."
Right and Accord is one of the main opposition forces represented in the Armenian parliament. Like Babayan–the bloc favors a firm stand on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict.
During a government session Friday–Ghoukassian said that despite some disoriented statemen’s–the situation in Karabakh still remained stable–reported the Noyan Tapan news agency.
The Karabakh president thanked the overwhelming majority of deputies and all members of government for their clear-cut position displayed in the current difficult situation–for their high civil and principled position. The president stressed the inestimable role of Armenian Defense Minister Vagharshak Haroutiunian in helping to restore stability.
The deputies and government members–for their part–expressed satisfaction with the balanced steps being taken by the Karabakh President in the given situation.
Summing up the results of the meeting–Ghoukassian said that meetings with deputies and government members would be held periodically and urged all to continue their work in a normal regime.
"The flood of letters and statemen’s in support of Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukassian is a kind of referendum testifying to the fact that the people of Artsakh support their president," the Karabakh President’s Press Office told Noyan Tapan.
In a December 18 statement addressed to the people of Artsakh–the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Central Committee of Artsakh urged the Karabakh authorities to resolve the crisis by strictly keeping with the law. "We are sure that you [the people] will also remain loyal to the highest interests of the country–will support the legitimate power structures–the basis of the state–and will maintain our unity and the victory gained in battlefields," the statement read.
The group of former military commanders–officers and soldiers–43 in all–also issued a statement. "On December 16–the Board of the Yerkrapah Union of Volunteers of Artsakh issued a statement that does not reflect the opinion of the majority of struggling activists," the statement read. "The achievemen’s gained by our brothers who fell in battlefields need diplomatic and economic strengthening. The only true way to do that is through supporting the legitimate president–government and policies of the current authorities."
The letter of public figures of Shoushi addressed to President Ghoukassian states–"Approving your policies–we assure you that we will spare no effort to make a worthy contribution to the resolution of the problems the republic is currently faced with." "We fully support the political line followed by Arkady Ghoukassian aimed at creating an atmosphere of democracy–justice and political stability in the republic," heads of communities of the Karabakh Shahumian region said in a statement.
"We–writers–call upon the people to rally around the state and government created at such a high cost thereby making irreversible the struggle for economic and political stability–democracy in Artsakh," the Board of the Karabakh Writers Union said in a message.
Messages of support were also received from numerous organizations and establishmen’s of Artsakh. Letters continue to arrive.