By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Rival factions inside the Yerkrapah Union played down their political differences on Wednesday as they celebrated an official holiday devoted to the influential organization of veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war.
Leaders of the governing Republican Party (HHK) and the opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic), which are represented in the union's leadership, said their conflicting views on many issues facing Armenia will not split Yerkrapah.
"Our political disagreements can not bring about a rift in the union," a senior member of both Hanrapetutyun and Yerkrapah, Ara Ketikian, told RFE/RL.
Hanrapetutyun was formed one year ago by senior Republicans unhappy with the Markarian government's support to President Robert Kocharian. They continue to suspect Kocharian of involvement in the October 1999 assassination of Vazgen Sarkisian, the then prime minister and Yerkrapah's charismatic founder. He was among eight senior officials shot dead in a terrorist attack on the parliament.
Sarkisian's younger brother and successor Aram, who now leads Hanrapetutyun, said he harbors "no animosity" towards the pro-Kocharian prime minister and the HHK. He told RFE/RL that he is even ready to cooperate with the Republicans "at some point" in the future.
Calls for unity were the main theme of speeches made at a high-level gathering marking "Yerkrapah's Day," which was declared an official holiday by the Armenian parliament earlier this year. The Yerkrapah chairman, General Manvel Grigorian, said members of his organization should put aside their differing political agendas.
Yerkrapah leaders not affiliated with any political party said the union should refrain from engaging in political activities as it has done on many occasions in the past. Parliament deputy Miasnik Malkhasian said the authorities should stop viewing Yerkrapah's "love for the state" as "loyalty to the government."
Yerkrapah actively participated in the government crackdown on the opposition in the wake of the disputed presidential elections of September 1996, and played an important role in the February 1998 ouster of then President Levon Ter-Petrosian. Its leaders' decision to back down from further confrontation with Kocharian following the 1999 shootings helped the latter prevail in a power struggle with government factions grouped around Aram Sarkisian.
Sarkisian said on Wednesday that he has no grudge against the top war veterans. "Yerkrapahs must be forgiven on many issues," he said. "They have earned the right to be forgiven."