By Hovannes Shoghikian
A hardline nationalist group whose leader is standing trial on controversial coup charges on Thursday insisted that it does not advocate violent means of political struggle despite its “unlimited desire” for regime change in Armenia.
“Even that unlimited desire does not give us reason to resort to reckless actions,” said. Armen Aghayan, political secretary of the Defense of Liberated Territories (ATP) organization. “It is obvious to all of us.”
“Zhirayr Sefilian himself made that clear in his response to deputies’ questions,” he said, referring to the top leader of the group, which is strongly opposed to any territorial concessions to Azerbaijan and has grown exceedingly hostile to Armenia’s leadership in recent years. “Taking on the state machine with arms is nonsense. It’s something like a suicide, a means of fruitless struggle.”
Sefilian, who is a prominent veteran of the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan, and opposition politician Vartan Malkhasian were arrested last December after setting up a new pressure group favoring a firm Armenian stand in the Karabakh conflict. They both were charged with publicly calling for a “violent overthrow of constitutional order.” The National Security Service also claims that they planned to mount an armed uprising against the government ahead of the May 12 parliamentary elections.
The criminal case against the two men is essentially based on their speech at the December 2 founding congress of their Alliance of Armenian Volunteers (HKH). Sefilian, in particular, threatened to “crack the head of anyone who will dare to surrender land” to Azerbaijan.
Sefilian, Malkhasian as well as another war veteran arrested by the NSS later in December reiterated their strong denial of the accusations as they went on trial on July 2. Their lawyers insisted on Thursday that none of them explicitly called for violent regime change in their public pronouncements. They again denounced the case as politically motivated, saying that the authorities were keen to keep the HKH from consolidating Armenia’s mainstream opposition ahead of the May elections.
“The pre-trial investigation lasted for six month because they wanted to keep our clients under arrest at least until the elections,” one of the lawyers, Ara Zakarian, told journalists.
(Photolur photo: Zhirayr Sefilian.)