By Astghik Bedevian
Armenian law-enforcement authorities said on Friday that they have uncovered a massive cache of weapons and ammunition in their ongoing investigation into a coup plot allegedly hatched by two hard-line nationalists hostile to the government.
The National Security Service (NSS) said its officers found on Thursday “unprecedented quantities” of assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers and even surface-to-air missiles in the village house of a man close to the arrested leaders of a group opposing concessions to Azerbaijan. It claimed that the resident of the southern Armenian village of Lusarat, identified as Vahan Aroyan, also illegally kept hand grenades, landmines, “tens of thousands” of bullets and radios.
“Vahan Aroyan is under arrest, and the investigation into the criminal case is continuing,” the NSS said in a statement. It gave no further details, saying only that the arrest was made “within the framework” of the coup charges leveled against Zhirayr Sefilian and Vartan Malkhasian.
The two men are well-known veterans of the 1991-1994 war in Nagorno-Karabakh who are highly critical of Armenia’s current leadership. They were arrested and charged with calling for a “violent overthrow” of the government following a December 2 meeting of their new organization, the Alliance of Armenian Volunteers (HKH). The NSS alleges that the HKH was set up to mount an armed uprising against the government during parliamentary elections expected next spring, a charge denied by Sefilian, Malkhasian and their supporters.
Armen Yeghian, another senior member of the HKH, said the arrested man, whom he identified as Vahan Arotian, is a former comrade-in-arms of Sefilian. But he insisted that Arotian “has had no practical involvement in the activities of our structure.” “He could not have participated in the [December 2] gathering because he had nothing to do with our structure,” Yeghian told RFE/RL.
Acting on an appeal lodged by Sefilian’s and Malkhasian’s lawyers, Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Wednesday refused to order the suspects’ release pending investigation.