By Hrach Melkumian and Emil Danielyan
Senior members of the once powerful Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans were on Tuesday put to shame by the mother of its assassinated founder, Vazgen Sarkisian, for their failure to challenge President Robert Kocharian and his allies.
Greta Sarkisian, highlighting her and her family’s lingering suspicion about Kocharian’s involvement in the former prime minister’s brutal murder in the October 1999 attack on the parliament, blasted Yerkrapah for its effective exit from the political scene almost two years ago. She accused its leaders of cowardice and betrayal of her son’s political legacy.
“First of all, you have failed to stand by the October 27 [investigation],” she told several hundred delegates of a Yerkrapah congress in Yerevan. “What has Yerkrapah been doing all this time? Has it ever come up with a statement in support of its comrades? No, not a single time.”
“If you can’t defend yourself, should we hope that you will defend the country tomorrow?” she asked, in an extraordinary attack on battle-hardened men who helped the Karabakh Armenians defeat the Azerbaijani army in the 1991-1994 war.
The stern rebuke was particularly directed at Yerkrapah chairman General Manvel Grigorian and other top army officers who helped Kocharian prevail in a seven-month power struggle that followed the parliament bloodbath. Powerful government factions grouped around the slain prime minister’s younger brother and predecessor, Aram Sarkisian, suspected Kocharian of masterminding the killings and nearly forced the latter into resignation.
However, the balance of forces began to change in March 2000 when Grigorian and several other army officers affiliated with Yerkrapah effectively quit the anti-presidential camp after being promoted by Kocharian. They kept Yerkrapah and the army from disobeying Kocharian when he sacked Aram Sarkisian and then defense minister Vagharshak Harutiunian two months later.
Greta Sarkisian mentioned that fact in her speech, criticizing Yerkrapah for avoiding any confrontation with Kocharian.
Once the influential support base of the late Vazgen Sarkisian, Yerkrapah has seen its political clout decline dramatically for the past two years. Efforts by some of its senior members leading the opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party to set the group back on a collision course with Kocharian have been thwarted by General Grigorian and his allies.
The Hanrapetutyun leader, Albert Bazeyan, urged fellow war veterans to reassert themselves as a political force. However, the call was unlikely to be heeded by the majority of congress delegates. All the indications were that they will reelect Grigorian as chairman of Yerkrapah.
The gathering started from the screening of an excerpt from the late Sarkisian’s 1999 speech in which he said that Yerkrapah is a public organization that does not engage in political activities. The episode underscored the current Yerkrapah leaders’ intention to steer clear of politics.
Their pro-Kocharian line was endorsed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian who said in his speech that the 8,000-strong organization’s mission is to contribute to Armenia’s security and economic development. Markarian also rejected allegations that the president and his inner circle were behind the parliament shootings. He said those who do not back up such claims with evidence are themselves “traitors” and “terrorists.”
The remark drew an angry response from the murdered prime minister’s mother. “I have made such statements, but I’m not a traitor,” she exclaimed from her seat in the front row of the conference hall.
“Ms. Greta, that doesn’t apply to you,” Markarian replied.