The deputy prime minister of Armenia’s new elected government says officials in Yerevan are continuing the anti-corruption campaign launched after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rode to power on a wave of mass demonstrations earlier this year.
In an exclusive interview with VOA, Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said Pashinyan's administration has spared nothing in their efforts to end decades of high-level graft and entrenched bribery, extortion, nepotism and fraud.
"When the revolution started, we put everything on the table — everything," Mirzoyan told VOA's Armenian Service. "We were ready, and we realized that if we fail, we at least will be imprisoned for years. But that didn't prevent us. We never doubted. We've never been afraid and never surrendered. And there is no power that can stop us."
Since assuming office in May 2018, Pashinyan, a former opposition lawmaker whose May 2018 rise to power was fueled by populist resentment over cronyism and poor governance under ex-president Serzh Sargsyan, ordered a series of raids and arrests that predominantly targeted members of the former ruling party.
Following one raid in late June, Gen. Manvel Grigoryan, a member of parliament from the former ruling party, was stripped of immunity. Lawmakers supported a prosecutor's motion to launch criminal proceedings against him.
Grigoryan, who fought in a war between Azerbaijan and Armenian-backed fighters over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s, was arrested after the National Security Service released footage of the raid on his home, where large quantities of weapons, food and ammunition were confiscated.
Prosecutors also suspect Grigoryan, who is the head of Armenia's largest organization of war veterans, of misappropriating state goods and donations for the army, charges that he denies.
Although the majority of probes involve former ruling party officials, the anti-corruption campaign is not an act of political revenge, Mirzoyan said.
“This is not our fault that the 99 percent of all discoveries deal with people from a certain political party," he said. "That is the party that has been in power. That is the party that refused to transfer the power. That is the party that used all levers to extend their personal power. There is no intent there, rather just statistics. We said that there will be no political vendetta, and we are confident in that.”
Mirzoyan also addressed criticism of the new government, which consists mostly of people in their 30s, acknowledging that some may lack the depth of experience possessed by former administrations.
“Yet, if we talk about real-life situations, the problem is that there were very experienced rogues, experienced corrupt officials," he said. "So, is it better to bring in inexperienced newcomers, who have good [moral] values and will do everything ... to implement these values? Or is it better to be a ‘hostage’ of experienced rogues and corrupt officials? For me, the answer is obvious.”
On the foreign policy front, Mirzoyan reiterated Yerevan's insistence that the new government will remain a strategic partner to Russia.
“There is a stereotype that the democratic state must be pro-Western, while less progressive regimes are leaning towards the other centers [of power]," he said. "In my opinion, Armenian revolution — a democratic, nonviolent revolution — proves that that is merely a stereotype.”
Yerevan does, however, wish to develop relations with the West, said Mirzoyan, adding that Pashinyan is planning to participate in the upcoming U.N. General Assembly, where he hopes to discuss expanded bilateral cooperation with U.S. leaders.
Despite recent opinion pieces in Russian state media portraying Pashinyan's overtures to Western nations as "unfaithful to Moscow," Mirzoyan insisted that democratic rule in Yerevan will persist, independent of its foreign ties.
“We moved ... in the direction of democracy. And on our way to build that democratic society, we [did not] receive instruction from anyone. … Neither have we needed anyone's approval," he said, emphasizing that neither Western nor Russian partners are influencing the new government's policies.
Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, who also spoke with VOA on Tuesday, said the Pashinyan government still enjoys popular domestic support in the wake of recent anti-corruption probes.
This story originated in VOA's Armenian Service. VOA correspondent Arman Tarjimanyan contributed reporting from Washington. Karine Kocharyan contributed reporting from New York.