Several prominent political and military figures have been arrested and accused of attempting to assassinate Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) issued a statement on the alleged plot on Saturday evening. Those arrested include former NSS head and head of the Motherland Party Artur Vanetsyan, former deputy speaker of Armenia’s parliament Republican Party member Vahram Baghdasaryan, Commander of the Sisian Detachment and war veteran Colonel Ashot Minasyan, and Armenian Revolutionary Federation Party member, war veteran and artist Ashot Avagyan.
Vanetsyan was released on Sunday night while the others remain in custody.
Vanetsyan and Minasyan both took part in the war in Nagorno-Karabakh heading their own detachments.
According to the statement, the NSS was able to discover and halt an assassination plot against Pashinyan, as well as attempts to overthrow the government and illegally obtain weapons, ammunition, and explosives.
The NSS has stated that Ashot Minasyan, who ‘had been opposed to the domestic and foreign politics of the ruling authorities’, took advantage of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan to obtain illegal weapons, moving them to a building in Sisian belonging to him.
According to the NSS, Minasyan also colluded with different political parties and opposition politicians in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in an attempt to overthrow the government. They had also allegedly been discussing possible candidates to replace Pashinyan. The NSS reports that they found caches of weapons, ammunition and explosives during ‘more than a dozen searches in the apartments or buildings belonging to the suspects’.
Lawyers representing the arrested have all claimed that the arrests were illegal and politically motivated. They denied the charges laid against their clients.
According to Ashot Minasyan’s lawyer, Aram Vardevanyan, who is also part of former President Robert Kocharyan’s legal team, Minasyan has not given testimony and has announced that he is being politically persecuted.
Minasyan has expressed disapproval over the trilateral agreement that brought an end to the war and has taken part in daily protests demanding Pashinyan’s resignation since 10 November.
On 15 November, based on an appeal by Vardevanyan, a trial took place to determine the legality of Minasyan’s arrest. The court decided that Minasyan will stay under arrest. According to Vardevanyan, the decision was based on a tapped telephone conversation by Minasyan on 9 November which he claimed to ‘have no meaning and legally absurd.’
Vardevanyan has announced that the body conducting the trials has stated that the aim of Minasyan’s arrest was to prevent him from evading custody.
A statement issued by Vanetsyan’s Motherland Party stated that the arrests were a ploy by the ruling party to stop a ‘popular uprising’ and to ‘divert the public’s attention from the agreement signed by Pashinyan on handing over Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) to the enemy’.
According to Vanetsyan’s lawyer, Lusine Sahakyan, the NSS attempted to carry out a search of Vanetsyan’s home, however had erroneously obtained a permit to search a different address. The NSS did, however, conduct a search at the home of Vanetsyan’s parents. The NSS did not search the Motherland Party office as they were not able to obtain a permit.
Head of the ARF’s Supreme Body Ishkhan Saghatelyan said that Pashinyan had chosen the ‘path of political persecution and is attempting to become a dictator’.
‘This a familiar scenario for us, but we are not afraid of it’ stated Saghatelyan. ‘Nikol, you will at the end be forced to arrest all of the Armenian people because, unlike you and your clowns, everybody else thinks and works for the salvation of the homeland’.