YEREVAN—Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stunned observers this week with a pair of major administrative shakeups: the dismissal of Armenia’s head of National Security Service (NSS) and the appointment of a new chief advisor.
NSS Director Artur Vanetsyan, the local successor to the Soviet-era KGB, has been removed from his post. The General took the job as Armenia’s top spy in May 2018, one of Pashinyan’s first appointments following last year’s Velvet Revolution. Vanetsyan said he resigned from his position as NSS director later that same day and denied that he had been fired. According to his official press release, General Vanetsyan insisted that he had quit on his own accord and not, as Pashinyan had previously stated from “mutual consent as a result of several discussions.” Pashinyan mentioned that several candidates for the job were being considered but refused to provide more details.
Vanetsyan’s resignation letter cites a desire to spend more time with his family and continue in his position as head of the Armenian Football Federation. He sidesteps any plans for further political life. A passage towards the bottom reads, “Let my resignation be a sobering ‘stop’ step to the government” and has been interpreted as a jab at the Prime Minister’s cabinet, due to the reference to his party’s “My Step” slogan.
Vanetsyan strongly denied allegations made by pro-government lawmakers that he had been maintaining strong ties to members of the former regime, including Robert Kocharyan who is currently in prison facing charges for unconstitutional activities in the March 1, 2008 civil unrest.
The fact that an investigation was launched into the activities of former President Serge Sarkisian’s nephew Mikael Minasian on the same day as Vanetsyan’s dismissal fueled speculation that the two were interlinked.
Under President Sarkisian’s 10-year rule, Minasian, a grandson of famous Armenian philosopher Mikael Minasian of whom he bears the name, was appointed Armenian Ambassador to the Holy See as well as to the Republic of Malta. These appointments received criticism at the time as Minasyan, who had no previous diplomatic credentials, was widely accused of benefiting from nepotism and taking advantage of his status for shady business dealings. Prime Minister Pashinyan has not provided any details on the specific case in which he is being investigated but hinted that it had to do with his role in the “highly suspicious privatization of one of Armenia’s strategic facilities.”
Vanetsyan for his part both denied any link to Minasian and also warned the now-fringe Republican Party of Armenia figures that he would not allow himself to be used for their own political advantage.
Within a day of Vanetsyan’s resignation, the Prime Minister also announced the removal of Chief of Police Valeriy Osipyan from his position. Osipyan, who had previously served as deputy head of Yerevan’s police department responsible for public order and crowd control, was a well-known figure at opposition rallies, which he regularly monitored. Less than two months after Pashinyan pegged him as Chief of Police, Osipyan famously declared that he had completely eradicated corruption from the police force, though most observers remained unconvinced. Perhaps by coincidence, former Police Chief Vladimir Gasparyan, whom Osipyan had replaced in the wake of the Velvet Revolution, was also indicted on the same day on charges of abusing his powers to benefit people working for former President Sarkisian’s brothers.
Once more, no reason was provided for the dismissal, though hours later, the Armenian Government portal (E-gov.am) announced Osipyan’s promotion to Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister. That position had previously been held by Arsen Gasparyan, a controversial businessman who had been described as “a cigar entrepreneur with debts abroad.”
Within hours of Osipyan’s dismissal, rumors appeared that Defense Minister David Tonoyan would be the next high-ranking official to resign, however, the Minister dispelled these speculations, insisting that he had no plans to resign and “no disagreement with the Prime Minister.” Tonoyan also called Vanetsyan’s resignation “a personal decision.”
According to the Armenian Constitution, the heads of the various agencies which comprise Armenia’s security apparatus must be chosen from within their own organizations with candidates holding the rank of Colonel at the very least. These are not political appointments.