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Karabakh Army Figure Was In Iran, But Rejects Political Meddling Charge

Samvel Babayan
Samvel Babayan
YEREVAN -- A former commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces has confirmed that he recently visited Iran but rejected reports that he was tampering with Armenian politics, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Samvel Babayan's office dismissed as untrue speculation in the media that he was in Tehran was to secure Iranian support for former Armenian President Robert Kocharian's return to power.

Reports suggested that Kocharian promised Babayan the post of defense minister in return for his help.

Babayan's office in Yerevan released a written statement saying that "if Samvel Babayan decides to engage in active politics, he will do so publicly, without linking that with others' relationships and plans."

The statement further denied that Babayan aspires to any government post, including that of defense minister.

It said Babayan's visit to Tehran was of a private, not political, nature. It did not say whether he met in Tehran with any Iranian government officials.

A purportedly private visit by Kocharian to Tehran in January triggered similar speculation that he plans a political comeback.

Kocharian met with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki while in Tehran. Visiting Yerevan later in January, Mottaki referred to those meetings as a reunion of old friends who share "good memories" of the past and "discuss prospects for the future."

Babayan, Kocharian, and President Serzh Sarkisian are natives of Nagorno-Karabakh and all led the Armenian-populated region during much of its 1991-94 secessionist war with Azerbaijan. Kocharian is believed to have had a particularly good rapport with Babayan.

Babayan, 45, commanded Karabakh Armenian forces from 1993-99 and was at one point regarded by some as the territory's most powerful man.