Pashinyan Calls it a Declaration of War on the Armenian State
YEREVAN—Hours before a nationally televised debate between leaders of parties and alliances vying for seats in Armenia’s next parliament during Sunday’s snap elections, a recording of several conversations between Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the head of Armenia’s National Security Service Artur Vanetsyan surfaced on YouTube Wednesday. Pashinyan reacted to the leak in Facebook post on Werdnesday calling it “essentially a declaration of war on the Armenian State.”
The YouTube post features three clearly edited conversations that seek to demonstrate collusion between the executive and judicial branches in relation to charges against former president Robert Kocharian and then Secretary General of the CSTO Yuri Khachaturov, both of whom have been charged with breaching Armenia’s constitutional order in relation to the events of March 1, 2008 when eight civilians and two police officers were killed by security forces during post-election opposition protests.
The format of the Wednesday’s post mimics a similar video that was posted on YouTube in September of a conversation between Vanetsyan and the head of Armenia’s Special Investigative Service Sasun Khachatryan, who were recorded talking about the same cases. At the time both Vanetsyan and Sasunyan confirmed the authenticity of the recordings. Both recordings are of conversations between Vanetsyan and Pashinyan and Vanetsyan and Khachatryan that took place on July 26 when Vanetsyan was in Switzerland on official government business.
In Wednesday’s recording Vanetsyan is heard telling Pashinyan about concerns he has regarding the arrest of Khachaturov, saying that it would anger the Russians. In the conversation, Pashinyan seems to agree with the NSS head who informs the prime minister that the Russian intelligence has expressed serious misgivings about the plan to arrest the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
Vanetsyan tells Pashinyan that Khachaturov’s arrest would be viewed by the Russians as a “big slap in the face of the CSTO’s authority… It’s like detaining the NATO secretary general.” Pashinyan is hear agreeing with Vantsyan’s unease but expresses concern about Khachaturov leaving the country and “never coming back.” Another segment leaked on Wednesday features a conversation between Vanetsyan and Khachatryan where the two are pondering the effects of Russia’s reaction about the Khachaturov arrest and propose possibly setting a high bail and travel restrictions on Khachaturov.
Another segment of Wednesday’s leaked conversation is between Vanetsyan and Pashinyan discussing the Kocharian case where Vanetsyan seems to assure Pashinyan that Kocharian, whose case was still underway at the time of the telephone call, would be arrested.
On Wednesday, an angry Pashinyan reacted by warning that “those who provoked this war will suffer a crushing defeat.” He also asserted that the recording was doctored to frame the discussion in a certain light. He then urged his Facebook audience to vote for his “My Step” Alliance during Sunday’s snap parliamentary elections.
The September leak prompted parliament to assign a special investigation committee to look into the matter. At the same time, the NSS carried out its own investigation.
In October, Vanetsyan told reporters that the wiretap was ordered in Armenia by “a well-known person.” He did not reveal the identity of the person. Vanetsyan said in October that at the time of the wiretapping he was located in a roaming zone – which facilitated the process of wiretapping his phone.
“When someone is under roaming, operators use different internet and telephone lines to provide cheaper communication. I was under roaming, and the internet line was not secure, meaning [the call] wasn’t encrypted,” explained Vanetsyan during the October press briefing.
During Wednesday’s candidates’ debate, the head of the Republican Party of Armenia Vigen Sargsyan used the contents of the leaked telephone conversation to illustrate collusion between the executive and investigative branches, calling Pashinyan a liar. Pashinyan was quick to point out to Sargsyan that if, in fact, there was collusion, 90 percent of the Republican Party of Armenian officials would now be behind bars.
The question remains that if in October Vanetsyan had identified the “well known person” in Armenia who allegedly wiretapped his conversations, why didn’t the NSS take measures to prevent future leaks or to arrest that individual.