By Astghik Bedevian
A prominent Lebanese-Armenian participant of the Nagorno-Karabakh war who has campaigned against major concessions to Azerbaijan was reportedly facing deportation from Armenia late Monday after being arrested for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.
Zhirayr Sefilian, who leads a hardline pressure group that considers the Armenian government’s Karabakh policy “defeatist,” and a large group of his supporters were detained by law-enforcement bodies late Saturday and early Sunday. All but one of the three dozen men making up the newly formed Armenian Volunteer League (HKH) were released shortly afterwards, following searches conducted in their apartments by officers of the National Security Service (NSS).
The NSS said it has “irrefutable evidence” to assert that Sefilian set up the group for mounting an armed uprising against the government during next spring’s parliamentary elections. A written statement released by the Armenian successor to the Soviet KGB said he also sought to prod the country’s mainstream opposition into staging violent anti-government protests.
The NSS also claimed that Sefilian and the other man held in custody, opposition activist Vartan Malkhasian, presented HKH members with a “plan of concrete actions” aimed at toppling President Robert Kocharian during a December 2 confidential meeting in Yerevan. It was conducting a criminal investigation under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with public calls for a “violent change of constitutional order.”
Sefilian’s friends and associates told RFE/RL that the Lebanese national, who commanded a battalion during the war with Azerbaijan and has the lieutenant-colonel’s rank, will likely avoid trial and be deported from Armenia. They expected him to be forcibly put on a late-night flight to Aleppo, Syria. The NSS, spokesman, Artsvi Baghramian, declined to confirm or deny this.
Meanwhile, leaders of a dozen opposition parties gathered for an emergency meeting to condemn the decorated war veteran’s arrest. “The authorities have committed yet another blunder,” said Smbat Ayvazian of the radical Hanrapetutyun party. “They want to create a society of fear but they will get a society of hatred directed at themselves.”
Aram Karapetian, the leader of the Nor Zhamanakner party, accused the authorities of trying to forestall street protests against fresh vote rigging and unpopular concessions to Azerbaijan such as the return of Armenian-occupied lands surrounding Karabakh. He admitted that Sefilian, a vocal opponent of any Armenian troop withdrawal, was prepared for “radical actions.”
(Photolur photo: Zhirayr Sefilian.)