Heads of Armenia’s top security structures resign – no official reasons given
The recent and surprising resignation of the head of the National Security Service, Artur Vanetsyan, has been followed today on September 18 by the dismissal of police chief Valery Osipyan.
These resignations have come as a surprise because because both chiefs of these law enforcement agencies were appointed after the Velvet Revolution of 2018 by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Much deliberation and even some confusion accompanied their appointments – the prime minister himself deemed it necessary at the time to explain why he chose these two officials, and mentioned that they were not connect to the former authorities and therefore were of outstanding character.
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Rumors about the possible resignation of the police chief appeared in the Armenian media on September 17, and were confirmed the following day.
Officially, no reason has been given for either dismissal.
Speculation surrounding police chief Osipyan’s dismissal
The media has speculated that Osipyan has been dismissed because of his failure to disperse demonstrators blocking the road to the Amulsar gold mine.
Immediately after the Velvet Revolution, residents of the settlements adjacent to the mine blocked the road leading to the area, saying that the exploitation of the mine will poison the surrounding water tables.
100 tonnes of sodium cyanide will be used in mining operations.
PM Pashinyan has on several occasions used Facebook to appeal to the activists to open the road, arguing construction work in the mine would resume no earlier than April 2020.
He also said that in case of any violations, the mine will be closed for 90 days.
However, the road to the field is still blocked, despite a court order.
There are also rumors that the prime minister has already instructed the police to have the road cleared by any means.
The first comment by the head of the National Security Service after the resignation
The Armenian media made connections between Vanetsyan’s resignation to the former authorities, which was strange given that after the revolution it was he who periodically announced the next high-profile corruption scandal related to the former authorities.
Vantesyan commented on this rumour:
“In deciding to resign, I did not consult with any political force. I spoke about my resignation with my family – my wife, children and parents, informed them of my resignation and made this decision. It was thoughtful and clear.”
Vanetsyan advised representatives of the former government not to interfere in his relations with the current authorities. He also denied any connection with the son-in-law of the third president Serzh Sargsyan and the ex-ambassador to the Vatican:
“Let no one try to connect me to Mikael Minasyan, since this person must answer many questions before the law. There is an investigation (as Pashinyan has already said), and it will answer the question of whether or not Mikael Minasyan should appear before a court of law or not.”
Arthur Vanetsyan still did not name specific reasons for his decision to resign:
“I consider this decision in the current situation and in the context of the future the most desirable and justified option for my service to Armenia and my people,” Vanetsyan wrote on the page of the National Security Service on Facebook.
But in his message there was criticism:
“The spontaneity of decision-making, the chaos of actions, the non-distinction between priority and secondary is not the way that leads to the realisation of goals. This has nothing to do with the dignity of an officer. Let my resignation be a sobering signal ‘stop.’ Peace and security to our country.”
Pashinyan said he did not understand what Vanetsyan meant by his statement and refused to talk about the details of Vanetsyan’s resignation.
He referred to the fact that this is not an issue that “can be discussed publicly.” The prime minister only spoke about the future activities of the former security officer, and this statement in Armenia was considered offensive to Vanetsyan:
“Several options for Arthur Vanetsyan are being discussed. At the moment, Vanetsyan will most likely concentrate on getting the Armenian team to the finals of the European Championship [ed. Vanetsyan is also the president of the Armenian Football Federation].”
These are some of the possible reasons named for his resignation, explained below:
– the scandalous wiretapping of a personal conversation between Vanetsyan and the head of the Special Investigation Service, when they discussed the arrest of the second president of Armenia Robert Kocharian;
– Pashinyan’s statement that he is dissatisfied with the pace of corruption cases;
– a criminal case against an associate of Nikol Pashinyan during the Velvet Revolution, who later became the head of the State Audit Office David Sanasaryan;
– Vanetsyan’s stake in the petroleum business.
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The wiretapping scandal
Arthur Vanetsyan became one of the most popular officials on Pashinyan’s team during his term in office. He managed to raise respect for the body he headed due to the high-profile corruption schemes it uncovered.
This situation slightly changed with the wiretapping scandal, when the head of the Special Investigation Service, Sasun Khachatryan and Vanetsyan discussed the arrest of the second President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan.
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In June 2019, Vanetsyan admitted that he was ashamed that the wiretapping had taken place, but not for the content of the conversation overheard:
“Starting from the leaders of the strongest states and ending with the rest, everyone has found themselves in similar situations. And today we are doing everything possible to eliminate such incidents in the future.”
Who organized the wiretapping and who posted it online is still unknown or has not been publicly disclosed.
During a press conference in Vanadzor on September 16, Nikol Pashinyan himself recalled his statement about the unsatisfactory scale of the fight against corruption in July 2019.
Then, at the first meeting of the Anti-Corruption Policy Council, the Prime Minister said:
“Today, the Armenian government has the maximum political will to carry out the fundamental fight against corruption. But the anti-corruption struggle in Armenia is not taking place on the appropriate level is not so effective so as to match this political will.”
Since the main responsibility for solving corruption lies with the NSS, many felt that this was one of the main reasons for Vanetsyan’s resignation.
Vanetsyan’s stake in the fuel business
In the spring of 2019, the Armenian media wrote that the director of the National Security Service, Arthur Vanetsyan, has a stake in the fuel business. Information was published that the government of Nikol Pashinyan invited him to leave this sphere.
At the end of March, Vanetsyan during a briefing denied these rumors and stated that his “family has nothing to do with the fuel and oil products market.”
“If I start suing people who write about me, it will be a shame. I refute these publications and would advise these resources to also refute [their claims], because they used my name so that their publications could get a lot of views. It’s just a shame.”
Social media reaction
Armenian Facebook users have actively commented on Vanetsyan’s resignation:
“Good man, it’s a pity that he resigned. All the same, we respect and hope that there was a good reason.”
“A real man and officer. Bravo”.
“Intelligence is the eyes and ears of the state. Therefore, traditionally in the history of our republic, special services and foreign intelligence agencies have been given priority attention from the highest officials of the state. Personally, my opinion is that this event was brought about from the outside, that is, from the previous leadership of the country.”
“I hope you will be the future Prime Minister of Armenia.”