By Hrach Melkumian
The Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, a once powerful group linked with the Armenian military, held a regular congress at the weekend, failing to reelect several vocal critics of President Robert Kocharian to its ruling board.
Most of the dissenters are prominent war veterans that used to be close to Vazgen Sarkisian, Yerkrapah’s founder and Armenian’s former prime minister assassinated in October 1999. They all boycotted the gathering, saying that Yerkrapah has lost its independence and become ineffectual.
One of them, Albert Bazeyan, is the chairman of Hanrapetutyun (Republic), Armenia’s most radical opposition party effectively led by Sarkisian’s brother Aram. Also absent was Hakob Hakobian, Yerkrapah’s deputy chairman and the head of its Yerevan branch. It is not yet known if he will retain the latter post.
The conference, attended by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, saw little debate on major issues facing Armenia. The reelected Yerkrapah chairman, Deputy Defense Minister Manvel Grigorian, stressed only the need for “national unity.”
“The war [with Azerbaijan] is not yet over. Every Armenian must fulfill their obligations to the state,” Grigorian said vaguely.
Markarian, for his part, assured the veterans that the Armenian government will never agree to a peace accord that would leave Karabakh under Azerbaijani control.
Despite the boycott staged by fellow Hanrapetutyun members, Aram Sarkisian did take part in the congress, making a thinly veiled call for Yerkrapah defiance of the ruling regime.
“Dear Yerkrapahs, you owe absolutely nothing to the authorities. On the contrary, they owe their power to you,” the opposition leader said in a trademark emotional speech to the delegates.
“You owe nothing to the opposition either. But you are responsible for every child born in this country … Do not relieve yourself of that burden. Do not bicker over petty issues.”
The speech appeared to strike a chord many delegates. Some of them followed Sarkisian as he finished the speech and immediately left the conference hall. Grigorian, who presided over the proceedings, made an awkward attempt to stop the exodus, telling aides to close the doors only to be reassured by leaving veterans that they will be back shortly.
Yerkrapah numbers about 11,000 members and acted as the late Vazgen Sarkisian’s support base until his violent death in the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament. During the ensuing power struggle inside Armenia’s leadership it supported government factions hostile to Kocharian until the beginning of 2000 when Grigorian and other top army generals pledged their loyalty to the head of state. The organization has since seen its influence diminish dramatically.
(Photolur photo: Grigorian addressing the Yerkrapah congress.)