By Astghik Bedevian
Hundreds of Armenian veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war stood outside the headquarters of their Yerkrapah Union for a second consecutive day on Friday to prevent police from arresting a rank-and-file member of the influential organization.
The man, whom Yerkrapah leaders refuse to identify, found refugee in the main Yerkrapah building in Yerevan on Thursday after reportedly being chased by about a dozen police officers suspecting him of “hooliganism.” Witnesses said their attempt to arrest him met with fierce physical resistance from Yerkrapah officials inside the building and ended in failure.
Scores of war veterans, apparently alerted by their leaders, promptly gathered at the scene of the extraordinary clash in an effort to thwart further police attempts to arrest their comrade. In the meantime, senior police officers and Yerkrapah figures, including the union’s chairman Manvel Grigorian, began late-night negotiations behind the closed doors. No agreements were announced afterwards.
Armenia’s national Police Service refused to comment on the incident. The police press service said throughout Friday that it is trying to establish whether the violence occurred at all.
Yerkrapah leaders, meanwhile, insisted that they will not allow law-enforcement officers to arrest any of the former “freedom fighters” inside their headquarters, effectively refusing to turn in the fugitive man. The latter is said to be a construction worker who got in trouble with the police after brawling with one of his colleagues.
“I can’t say who that person is,” the deputy chairman of Yerkrapah, Ara Ketikian, told RFE/RL. “All I can say is that he was a participant of the Artsakh freedom fight who appealed to the Yerkrapah Union for legal aid. We later found out that he was wanted by the police.”
“I think the incident is over,” added Ketikian.
The very fact of the Armenian police being unable to arrest an ordinary citizen is quite extraordinary in itself and testifies to Yerkrapah’s persisting influence. The organization, founded by the late Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian over a decade ago, comprises about 10,000 war veterans. Many of its leaders still hold senior posts in the Armenian military.
(Photolur photo: Deputy Defense Minister Manvel Grigorian addressing a Yerkrapah conference in Yerevan.)