By Shakeh Avoyan
The Armenian police have discovered an arms cache in the premises of a non-governmental organization and arrested one of its leading members, politician and Soviet-era dissident Azat Arshakian, on charges of illegal arms possession, the interior ministry confirmed on Monday.
A ministry spokesman told RFE/RL that a “large quantity of weapons and ammunition” was found on Friday at an office building in Yerevan belonging to the Independence Army, a former paramilitary group which is currently engaged in charitable work.
Arshakian is one of the group’s founders and also a former leader of the small Christian Democratic Union party which was aligned with a political alliance supporting former president Levon Ter-Petrossian. Arshakian, who spent several years in Soviet jails in the 1970s and 1980s for campaigning for Armenia’s independence, effectively quit politics shortly after Ter-Petrossian’s resignation.
Police say the stockpile of weapons included 30 barrels of flame-throwers, 230 hand grenades, around 300 mine detonators and more than 13,500 cartridges. The chairman of the Independence Army, Hayk Gevorgian, confirmed the information but said the group had no knowledge about the cache. He claimed that the room in which the weapons were stashed had been locked for years.
Nearly two dozen members of the organization were detained for questioning immediately after the discovery of the weapons. All of them except Arshakian were released the next day. Sources told RFE/RL that he assumed full responsibility for the existence of the arms cache. He is expected to provide explanations in a written statement in the coming days.
Arshakian is known to be a longtime friend of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, also a former political prisoner. The two men were members of the Independence Army when it fought Azerbaijani special police forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in 1989-91. Like all other Armenia militias, the group was later disbanded and transformed itself into an NGO dealing with social problems of the war veterans.