By Ruzanna Stepanian
A group of disgruntled former field commanders announced on Tuesday the creation of a new organization uniting Armenian veterans of the 1991-1994 war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The group named the Union of Comrades-in-Arms will hold its founding congress and will seek to address grave socioeconomic problems facing its members, its leaders told reporters. “We are rallying around the idea of patriotism and brotherhood,” they said in a statement, urging “all freedom fighters” to join them.
The union’s leaders, who quit the Armenian military shortly after the war, appeared unhappy with the overall state of affairs in the country and the plight of their comrades in particular. One of them went so far to claim that most “real veterans” are now mired in poverty.
The statement noted in this regard that the new organization will strive to “restore the formerly good reputation of the Armenian soldier,” a clear jibe at other field commanders who rose to prominence during the war and are now top army commanders with extensive business interests. One of those commanders, Deputy Defense Minister Manvel Grigorian, heads the once powerful Yerkrapah Union, the largest organization representing Karabakh war veterans.
Yerkrapah, which numbered some 11,000 members until recently, has repeatedly been used by Armenia’s leaders for neutralizing their political opponents. Its leadership’s close ties with the ruling regime and conspicuous wealth has raised many ordinary veterans’ eyebrows. Hundreds of them split from Yerkrapah last February to form an organization called the Test of Spirit. Among its leaders is Albert Bazeayn, a prominent opposition figure.
The Union of Comrades-in-Arms said in its statement that its activities will be “immune to any influence from political forces.” Speaking at a news conference, its leaders said the group will ascertain its political orientation soon. They at the same time made it clear that they are opposed to constitutional amendments sought by President Robert Kocharian and his allies.