By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A small Armenia party uniting veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh issued the authorities on Tuesday with what amounted to an ultimatum to promptly alleviate socioeconomic hardship or face a popular rebellion.
The leaders of the National Salvation Party, little known until now, claimed that its members and scores of other Armenians mired in poverty are losing patience with the government’s failure to markedly improve their living standards and ensure the rule of law.
“Justice must be established in the country. The Armenian people must be given back the rights which they had until 1990,” one of them, Sarkis Karapetian, told a news conference. “We will ask, beg and coerce the government of the republic, using violence if necessary.”
But Karapetian was quick to rule out an armed revolt. “We have fists, we won’t resort to firearms,” he said.
But another party leader, Vartan Tatarian, was more ambiguous. “We are not armed and have no right to carry weapons. But the people will give us that right if need be,” he said.
Tatarian, who commanded a volunteer squad during the 1991-94 war with Azerbaijan, said he and many other members of the party are also affiliated with the once powerful Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans led by top army generals. He said the veterans have twice requested a meeting with President Robert Kocharian but were turned down in both cases. They will again try to get an audience with Kocharian, he said.
The party leaders did not specify the demands and set no deadlines for their fulfillment. They instead claimed to be receiving “mass complaints” from ordinary Armenians furious with the growing income gap between them and the small wealthiest segment of the population.
“Poverty is a much greater disaster than war,” Karapetian said. “They know that we defeated an enemy armed with tanks, warplanes and other heavy weapons during the war and are able to establish justice in Armenia.”
“They have been suffering at the hands of those who became leaders with our blood,” he added referring to thousands of former fighters languishing in poverty for the past decade. “We don’t demand much, we just demand a normal, decent life.”
The threats might be interpreted by the Armenian authorities as calls for a “violent overthrow of constitutional order,” a crime punishable by a lengthy prison sentence. The authorities have controversially used a relevant clause in the criminal code to arrest and prosecute last spring several leaders of Armenia’s most radical opposition party, Hanrapetutyun (Republic).
Incidentally, Hanrapetutyun leaders, who also boast war veterans among their supporters, appear suspicious of National Salvation. Karapetian said his party has repeatedly offered to join forces with Hanrapetutyun but has not received any reply from the latter.