“The government is holding me hostage.”

An exclusive interview from the detention center with detained member of the “Unification” movement Avetik Chalabyan conducted by Koryun Simonyan from Oragir News on July 13, 2022 and translated by Dr. Ara Nazarian.

Avetik Chalabyan

Oragir News (O.N.): Mr. Chalabyan, the opposition movement, in which you also actively participated, is now limited to demonstrations once a week. According to many, it has died out. In your opinion, what mistakes did the opposition make during this time?

Avetik Chalabyan (A.C.): First, I would like to start with the fact that the opposition movement has recorded important achievements in all cases. First and perhaps most importantly, it brought our people out of the deep post-war depression into which the current government plunged them with its anti-national, defeatist propaganda, trying to present their orchestrated defeat of the 44-day war as proof of the collective incapacity of the Armenian people against the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem. The majority of our people already realize that the defeat in the war is not a death sentence for the nation, as it straightens its back and is ready to defend its homeland, its dignity and legal rights. Secondly, the international players present in our region, as well as Turkey and Azerbaijan, realize that they are dealing not just with the puppet authorities in Armenia, ready to surrender any day, but have to reckon with an organized force that has the support of a significant, if not majority, of the population of Armenia and Artsakh. It is also expressed in the changes in their rhetoric and behavior, at least at the end of April when the opposition movement started, the enemies were no longer able to extract any open concessions from Armenia. At the same time, I do not think that the “Resistance” movement should be satisfied with what it has achieved. There are many years of confrontation with Turkey and Azerbaijan ahead, until more peace-loving and constructive regimes come to power in those countries, and we, Armenians, also need to have such a government that is capable of consistently protecting and advancing our national interests in such conditions. Therefore, we not only need to achieve the removal of the current government, but also to form a new government in its place, one that is much more competent, consistent, with military thinking and strategic thinking, capable of dealing effectively with the complex world around us. This is an issue for the next step of the struggle. 

O.N.: In your opinion, does the struggle have a new perspective on what needs to be done to restart with a new momentum?

A.C.: I think all this is not easy, but it is an imperative necessity to preserve the sovereignty of our country, to avoid the loss of our statehood. After all, we see how whole states are destroyed or become the theater of armed struggle for other large states in the world around us, which is heating up again as we are in a period of major military conflicts. This has happened in recent years in Libya, Syria, now in Ukraine, and today it threatens Armenia, which can become a small coin in the struggle between superpowers. We must prevent this, and this is possible only by forming a new quality government, which will base its activities on long-term national and state interests, will consistently deal with the modernization and strengthening of our country’s security system, and will be able to take advantage of the many available opportunities to strengthen our negotiating positions with Azerbaijan and Turkey. This requires the extreme mobilization of the political and organizational potential not only of Armenia, but also of all Armenians worldwide. This has been a fundamental failure by the current authorities based on their adventurous and dismissive actions; yet, its effective implementation today requires the creation and consolidation mechanisms and platforms for all those forces that, even if they have mutual differences in internal political issues, realize the dire nature of the external threats and are ready to cooperate to neutralize those dangers. In the coming months, this should be the main goal of the “Resistance” movement, especially to include the palette of forces included in it, such forces that previously did not actively participate in the movement due to the organizers, although they share the main agenda goals put forward by it. This, in turn, requires not a simple, mechanical meeting, but a series of public discussions in which different forces agree on the general agenda of the movement, the mechanisms for making tactical decisions, the logic of the movement’s actions, the principles of forming a new government in the future, etc. If this is done in an open, public and quality manner, it will in and of itself be an important stimulus for restoring the public’s interest in the movement and giving new momentum to the struggle. It is also very important to give clear answers to key questions that concern the public. For example, if you come to power, in the end, what will you do differently? What is the guarantee that you will achieve peace? At the expense of what factors? I think that we should now focus on clarifying those answers and delivering them to our citizens. That will be the main impetus to give new momentum to the struggle. 

O.N.: What are you doing that’s irritating Nikol Pashinyan to the point that he is detaining you for months?

A.C.: I think that this question should be posed to all those people who are illegally prosecuting me. Moreover, if it was not so obvious before, after the open court session on July 9-10, when the circumstances of the case were revealed to the public, and the judge made a decision clearly contrary to the letter of the law, I think there is no longer any doubt that the current government, abusing its control over the law enforcement system, is simply holding me hostage. My own opinion is that it has to do with two underlying factors. First, beginning in 2014 during the years when I was working abroad and in Armenia, we started carrying out public activities aimed at strengthening the army, and presumably I came under the attention of the special services of Azerbaijan. Back then, the government of Azerbaijan regularly wrote complaints to the international headquarters of our company demanding that I be removed from my position. From the moment I moved to Armenia, I devoted not only my public, but also my professional activities to the strengthening of the army and the defense system of Artsakh. My activities began to clearly annoy the leadership of Azerbaijan. Therefore, I do not rule out that there is a certain pressure on Armenia in this regard, and for the current government it is an opportunity to try to limit the part of my public activity which they really see as a direct threat to themselves. It is no secret that the government propaganda tries to justify its longevity by contrasting it with the previous ones and denigrating its various members, simultaneously trying to convince our public that the whole struggle is to keep what was looted in the past. Under these conditions, when new figures come to the public who were not directly involved in the activities of the previous authorities and are not responsible for their omissions in any way, they immediately begin to pose a significant threat to the existing authorities because they are capable of shattering the present-former dichotomy of convenience invented by them and and offer a quality, real and attractive alternative for our society. I think that in my case these two factors coincided, and perhaps that is why the current authorities are trying to pursue me with particular cruelty and cynicism. At the same time, I am sure that it will not bring the result they expected, and every illegal step taken against me will only increase the degree of responsibility of those who are guilty of it in the future.

Ara Nazarian, PhD

Ara Nazarian, PhD

Ara Nazarian is an associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a degree in mechanical engineering, followed by graduate degrees from Boston University, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Harvard University. He has been involved in the Armenian community for over a decade, having served in a variety of capacities at the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society, the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center, Armenian National Committee of America, St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

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