By Anna Saghabalian
An Armenian ultranationalist group on Wednesday strongly condemned the arrest and prosecution of its leader Armen Avetisian over his virulently anti-Semitic statements, describing him as a political prisoner.
Avetisian was remanded in custody by a Yerevan court on Monday after being charged under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code that carries up to six years’ imprisonment for “inciting ethnic, racial or religious hatred and animosity.”
“The Armenian Aryan Union is officially denying that accusation. It is false and fabricated,” one of the group’s leading members, Mar Martirosian, told a news conference.
A statement released by the Prosecutor’s Office in Yerevan on Tuesday confirmed that Avetisian is prosecuted for his long-running verbal attacks on Jews living in Armenia and elsewhere in the world. In a newspaper interview published earlier this month, the nationalist politician vowed to “cleanse” the country of Jews.
The leaders of Armenia’s tiny Jewish community have repeatedly demanded that the authorities take action against such statements. They are also concerned about broader manifestations of anti-Semitism in the country that have grown more frequent over the past year.
Martirosian claimed that his boss is not intolerant of the Jewish people. “For example, he has also threatened Georgians with violence and expulsion,” he argued.
However, Martirosian was quick to hand reporters a written statement detailing “a number of facts regarding the Jews’ hostile attitudes toward Armenians.” The Aryan Union will use its leader’s trial to expose the anti-Armenian essence of Zionism,” he said.
Also defending Avetisian was Tigran Karapetian, the controversial owner of the ALM television station who has been methodically making anti-Semitic remarks on air since last spring. “He should not have been arrested,” Karapetian said in an interview with the newspaper “Aravot” published on Wednesday. “He did not commit a murder and could have stayed at large before the trial. On the other hand, if he broke the law, why didn’t they arrest him a year ago?”
“In my view, he didn’t commit any crimes … Why is it that we can say everything about Turks and Azerbaijanis but get punished for saying the same things about Jews?” he added.
Avetisian’s arrest came less than three weeks after the release of the U.S. State Department’s report on global anti-Semitism. Both his party and Karapetian were mentioned in the report’s brief section on Armenia.