By Irina Hovannisian
One of the two nationalist opposition activists arrested last December for allegedly plotting to overthrow Armenia’s government on Thursday again rejected the accusations as unfounded and politically motivated.
Speaking to RFE/RL in a maximum-security basement jail in Yerevan, Vartan Malkhasian claimed that the Armenian authorities arrested him and Zhirayr Sefilian to stop them fighting against the falsification of the upcoming parliamentary elections. He also claimed that they are using the case to drag out internationally sponsored peace talks with Azerbaijan.
Sefilian and Malkhasian were arrested and charged with calling for a “violent overthrow” of the government in early December just days after setting up a new organization opposed to Armenian withdrawal from Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabakh. Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claims that the group, called the Alliance of Armenian Volunteers (HKH), planned to use the elections to mount an armed uprising against the government.
Malkhasian, who is a leading member of a small opposition party called Fatherland and Honor, admitted that he considers violence a legitimate means of struggle against the return of the “liberated territories,” but insisted that he the HKH did not plot a violent regime change.
“Different people can interpret my thoughts in different ways,” he said in a first media interview given after his arrest. “W have neither weapons nor armed groups. How can we seize power with a thousand men? That I don’t understand.”
Malkhasian charged that the case was “fabricated” because President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian wanted to “make sure we don’t take control of several polling stations and prevent fraud.” “That’s why we ended up here,” he said. “They were particularly scared of Zhirayr because Zhirayr can rally people even from jail.”
Malkhasian suggested that the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), of which he was a member until 2000, may also have had a hand in his arrest. He quit the governing party in protest against its close ties with Kocharian and the alleged corruption of its leaders. The oppositionist singled out on Thursday Hrayr Karapetian, the leader of the Dashnaktsutyun faction in the outgoing Armenian parliament and a former governor of the Aragatsotn region.
Malkhasian is a resident of the regional capital Ashtarak. He was recently registered as a candidate in a local single-mandate constituency. His main rival is an incumbent parliamentarian who has close ties with Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian.