Mikael Minasyan, ex-President Serzh Sargsyan’s son-in-law and Armenia’s former ambassador to the Vatican and Malta, has come out with the endorsement of Artsakh presidential candidate Vitali Balasanyan.

“Those who know Artsakh and its generals, will say with certainty that Artsakh is the people, who are like Vitali Balasanyan, through their character, with all their advantages and disadvantages. Today, we need to choose Artsakh, need to choose Vitali Balasanyan,” Minasyan said in a social media post.  Though out of government, Minasyan retains influence, particularly via news media outlets he is believed to control, such as Armenia TV, ArmNews, Tert.am and News.am. 

Garnik Isagulyan, previously a close aide to former president Robert Kocharyan, has also expressed support for Balasanyan.

UPDATE: Also endorsing Balasanyan is Armenia’s first prime minister Vazgen Manukyan.

Balasanyan was among first organizers of Karabakh self-defense, beginning in February 1988. During the war, he commanded the Askeran defense district and after the war – the Mardakert division and was deputy commander of the Defense Army. In 2002, he became the 12th recipient of the title of the Hero of Artsakh and is among 16 living individuals to be so recognized. 

After leaving the military, Balasanyan was elected to the NKR National Assembly and was the main challenger to incumbent Bako Sahakyan in 2012 presidential elections. In 2016 Balasanyan played a prominent public role during the April War and in July of that year he led the mediation effort to end the seizure of a Yerevan police base captured by the “Sasna Tsrer” group. He subsequently joined Bako Sahakyan’s government as secretary of the National Security Council.

Following prime minister Nikol Pashinyan’s move to charge and detain ex-president Kocharyan, Balasanyan emerged as a prominent critic of the charges and the detention, and was subsequently forced to resign from his government post. While in Yerevan last year, Balasanyan was stopped by Armenian security forces who insisted on searching his car, he refused and was eventually released. Later in the year, Balasanyan called for Pashinyan to “resign as soon as possible.”

In his interview with the RFE/RL Armenian Service, Balasanyan charged Pashinyan with taking sides in upcoming elections, when late last year the prime minister met with a number of presidential candidates but not with Balasanyan. At the same time, he claimed that his personal relationship with Pashinyan was long-standing and “there were no personal problems.”

“For me state interests are above personal differences,” Balasanyan insisted.