BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
By now, everyone is aware of the audio recording that went viral on the Internet between the chiefs of the Republic of Armenia’s (RoA) National Security Service and the Special Security Service Artur Vanetsyan and Sasun Khachatryan, respectively.
There are so many things wrong about this and the ensuing reactions that it’s almost mind-boggling.
The most obvious wrong is the fact that it happened at all. And, we know it’s not a fake because one of the two officials confirmed that conversation did occur. The fact that two high ranking government officials could be so completely obliviously recorded, then outed, is a problem. It is a sign of incompetence on the part of the security apparatus of the country.
The rush to judgment by Prime Minister Nigol Pashinyan in his assertion that it was not the Russians is another problem, and should give anyone pause. The intelligence agency of any significant power could have pulled this off (France, Great Britain, Israel, Russia, Turkey, U.S., and many more) if that country’s policy required that the RoA’s politics be roiled, or at least distracted, by scandals. But even more obvious is that fact that to know Russia did not do it requires that it be known who DID actually do it. If that’s the case, Pashinyan should have named the culprit, instead of saying an investigation has been launched.
Who really did it? Who has an interest in creating this kind of internal strife, besides foreign powers? It could be, as Pashinyan and his circle have suggested, that it is the work of “anti-revolutionary” forces, i.e. the oligarchs that formed the base of the previous three presidential administrations. It could even be a “false flag” operation by overzealous Pashinyan supporters who want to further galvanize their supporters. All these manipulative possibilities should be fully investigated and exposed to the public.
But what’s really more worrisome are the comments Pashinyan made that verge on calling for mob-rule and vigilantism, not the rule of law as he has so often called for. There is a Facebook video, clearly an edited one, where he is very agitated, even angry, and is commanding law enforcement agencies to round up those he considers to be the guilty parties, and “lay them down on the asphalt” within two hours. Sorry, but rule of law this ain’t! It is, on the contrary, an indication of budding tyranny. And, it might also be a national security problem because some of the entities he references sounded like they were part of the RoA’s defense apparatus (this aspect is not 100% clear to me, but I am worried by it).
These angry calls for accountability, when coupled with yet another reference to the March 1, 2008 deaths and bringing those responsible to justice, is far too much. Yes, absolutely, if Robert Kocharian broke the law in that case (or any other), hold his feet to the fire. The same with Serzh Sarkisian, and assorted other former high office holders. But, Levon Der Bedrosian’s misdeeds somehow elude Pashinyan’s attention when he lists litanies of misdeeds by former office holders. Is that because the first president was Pashinyan’s mentor? Is that to be understood as “equality before the law”? Are we entering an era where one set of bad actors is being replaced by another? What kind of justice does this forebode?
Finally, perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the Vanetsyan/Khachatryan recording is the multiple references to contact from/with judges who are presiding over the proceedings of the Kocharian case. This kind of “guidance seeking” by the judiciary from the executive branch of government is confirmed by Pashinyan, too. When discussing this recording, he refers to receiving many calls from judges asking how to rule on cases. He then proceeds to explain that he will never participate in such corruption and tells the judges the same thing. But very few people seem to be incensed by this. Where is public indignation and outrage at the very plain exposure of this unconscionable behavior? Pashinyan is right in pointing out that this is the judiciary the country inherited from previous regimes. Yet he is not as loud and contemptuous of it as he is of other wrongs. He speaks out far more strongly about individual cases than about the systemic problem when it comes to the judiciary.
A little over four months ago, when Pashinyan first took office as prime minister, I never would have thought that two weeks in a row I would be writing to criticize aspects of his governance. Yet here I am calling him out about fairness in taxation, last week, and equitable and proper implementation of the law this week.
We must, all of us Armenians, keep Pashinyan from falling into the trap of many other leaders of revolutions that started out righteously but decayed into various forms and degrees of non-democratic governments. Use all your contacts and acquaintances along with communicating with representatives of the country to convey this message to the government of the RoA.