Ex-Karabakh Leader Confirms Trip To Iran

Emil Danielyan


Armenia — Samvel Babayan, former commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh
army, holds a news conference in Yerevan, 30 March 2010.

Samvel Babayan, a former military leader of Nagorno-Karabakh, on
Monday confirmed a recent visit to Iran but insisted that it is not
a sign of his renewed active involvement in Armenian politics.

A series of recent reports in Armenian newspapers critical of the
government said that former President Robert Kocharian is using Babayan
in his alleged efforts to return to power. They claimed that the
Yerevan-based retired general would get the post of defense minister
in a new government envisaged by Kocharian. Babayan was alleged to have
visited Tehran recently to drum up Iranian support for that scenario.

In a written statement, Babayan’s office in Yerevan dismissed these
claims. "We want to once again point out that if Samvel Babayan
decides to engage in active politics, he will do that publicly,
without linking that with others’ relationships and plans," it said.

"As for becoming defense minister, Babayan has never aspired and does
not aspire to any [government] position."

The statement also denounced "the spate of gossips" sparked by his
trip to Iran. "Samvel Babayan did visit the Islamic Republic of
Iran recently, but that visit had a private, rather than political,
nature," it said. The office did not specify whether he met any
Iranian government officials there.

Kocharian similarly paid what he called a private visit to Iran
in January, sparking fresh media speculation about his impending
political comeback. It was only stoked by his subsequent criticism
of the Armenian government’s economic policies and other public

While in Tehran, Kocharian met with Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. Visiting Yerevan
later in January, Mottaki referred to those meetings as a reunion
of old friends who share "good memories" of the past and "discuss
prospects for the future."

Both Babayan and Kocharian as well as President Serzh Sarkisian are
natives of Nagorno-Karabakh who led the Armenian-populated region
during much of its 1991-1994 secessionist war with Azerbaijan.

Kocharian is believed to have had a particularly close rapport with
the once powerful general.

Babayan, 45, commanded Karabakh Armenian forces from 1993-1999 and was
at one point the territory’s most powerful man. He was arrested in
2000 and subsequently sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly
masterminding a botched attempt on the life of Arkady Ghukasian,
then president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

The former Karabakh strongman relocated to Yerevan immediately after
being set free in 2004. He set up there his own political party called
Dashink (Alliance) that claimed to be in opposition to the Kocharian
administration but avoided closely cooperating with Armenia’s main
opposition forces.

Babayan has kept a low profile on the Armenian political stage since
Dashink’s poor showing in the May 2007 parliamentary elections won
by Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).


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