Samvel Sharamanyan (news.am photo)

Pashinyan Warns Karabakh Leaders after Shahramanyan Le Figaro Interview

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YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan lambasted Nagorno-Karabakh’s Yerevan-based leaders for continuing to present themselves as a government in exile and threatened to crack down on them on March 28.

Opening a weekly session of his cabinet, Pashinyan stressed three times that “there can be no government in Armenia apart from the government of Armenia.”

“If somebody in Armenia identifies themselves as a government [in exile,] then it’s a national security problem for Armenia,” he said. “I hope that the existence of that problem will not mean that our [security] bodies have underperformed in their work.”

The warning was clearly addressed to Samvel Shahramanyan, the president of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). In an interview with France’s Le Figaro daily published on March 27, Shahramanyan said that all NKR’s bodies continue to formally operate after fleeing Karabakh along with the region’s entire ethnic Armenian population last September.

“This building where I am receiving you houses the presidential, legislative and judicial offices of Artsakh,” he said. “Lawmakers can meet here to vote.”

Shahramanyan also reiterated that his September 28 decree liquidating the NKR is not valid. He said that he had to sign the decree in order to enable the Karabakh Armenians to safely flee to Armenia amid an Azerbaijani military offensive.

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Pashinyan’s political allies lashed out at the Karabakh leader in late December when he first declared the decree null and void. They accused him of putting Armenia’s national security at serious risk.

Pashinyan has reportedly refused to meet Shahramanyan and other Karabakh leaders since they took refuge in Armenia. He has repeatedly indicated that the Karabakh issue is closed for his administration. His detractors say that he is afraid of angering Azerbaijan.

Ishkhan Saghatelyan, a leader of Armenia’s main opposition Hayastan alliance, condemned Pashinyan for “threatening” the Karabakh leadership and urged Armenians to counter a “new wave of repression” which he said could be unleashed against it.

“It is obvious that Artsakh’s page is not closed and Pashinyan and [Azerbaijani President Ilham] Aliyev are doing everything to find a pro-Azerbaijani solution to the issue,” Saghatelyan wrote on Facebook. “Let me remind you again. the main threat to Armenia’s security is Nikol Pashinyan, not Artsakh’s state institutions.”

Pashinyan said on Thursday that Armenian security services should be prepared to take “appropriate measures” to also prevent “some circles forcibly displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh” from being used by unnamed “external forces.” He did not elaborate.

Earlier this week, Shahramanyan, who generally keeps a low profile, attended the screening in Yerevan of a Russian film about the war in Ukraine which was organized by the Russian Embassy in Armenia. Russian Ambassador Sergei Kopyrkin described people attending the event as Russia’s friends.

In turn, Nagorno-Karabakh political figures condemned on March 29 Pashinyan’s threats to crack down on them.

“It’s blackmail, it’s a threatening attitude and a clear message that concrete actions could be taken,” Artak Beglaryan, a former Karabakh premier and human rights ombudsman said, commenting on the threats.

Beglaryan, who now leads a non-governmental organization helping Karabakh refugees, said the Armenian authorities could now prosecute Karabakh leaders or shut down the NKR office in Yerevan.

“I don’t exclude any scenario,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “But I would advise Armenia’s political leadership and law-enforcement bodies to be prudent and not to exploit this subject. If there are sensitive issues, they should discuss them with the Artsakh authorities and find solutions, rather than dissolve Artsakh’s state bodies.”

Metakse Hakobyan, a Karabakh lawmaker, said Pashinyan is trying to “intimidate, silence and ultimately jail” Karabakh leaders. “I think that they have already decided their further actions,” she said.

Arpi Davoyan, an Armenian parliament deputy and senior member of Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party, confirmed that law-enforcement authorities “will deal with” the NKR leadership.

“Yes, this is a matter of national security, and I think that law-enforcement bodies will draw relevant conclusions,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

Le Figaro Interview

In the interview with Le Figaro, Shahramanyan focused on the return of Karabakh political prisoners held in Azerbaijan. He noted that in addition to 8 former leaders of Artsakh, there are 7 more soldiers who were captured in September.

Shahramanyan noted that at the moment, there is no set date for trials.

Shahramanyan asked France to put pressure on Azerbaijan to release all Armenian prisoners. “I demand their immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all Armenian prisoners arbitrarily arrested, unjustifiably imprisoned, and victims of unfounded accusations. And I ask France to put pressure on President Aliyev to achieve this release,” the President said.

Answering the question about the number of remaining Armenians in Artsakh, Shahramanyan announced the number as 10-11 who are too sick or disabled to move freely and have chosen to be close to remains of their ancestors.

Touching upon conversations about whether there is a connection between the elections of the fifth president of Artsakh and the subsequent attack, Shahramanyan rejected the possibility of a connection, recalling that the Azerbaijanis had already amassed troops on the contact line before.

“It was obvious that after nine months of blockade aimed at weakening us, they were going to attack,” he said.

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