YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A veteran politician who had held senior positions in Armenia’s government in the 1990s was detained at the weekend in an ongoing investigation into political assassinations that were allegedly plotted by dozens of other arrested Armenians.
Vahan Shirkhanian was taken into custody on suspicion of being part of a clandestine organization which the National Security Service (NSS) says planned to murder Armenian officials and commit other “unprecedented” crimes. He was expected to be formally charged and remanded in pre-trial custody on Monday.
The NSS and the Armenian police arrested 10 people late last month when they raided a house in Yerevan and claimed to have found a weapons cache. At least 11 more people were arrested in the following days.
The NSS declined on Saturday to specify the total number of detainees. Some Armenian media outlets have put at about 50.
The arrested people are said to be members of an obscure nationalist group led by Artur Vartanian, a 34-year-old Armenian national who reportedly lived in Spain from 1997 until his return to Armenia in April this year. The group announced its existence on social media early this year with a video purportedly shot in Kessab, an Armenian-populated town in northern Syria.
NSS officers detained Shirkhanian immediately after searching his Yerevan apartment. “He was taken by surprise,” Shirkhanian’s lawyer, Tigran Ter-Yesayan, said afterwards.