By Hovannes Shoghikian
Opposition leader Vazgen Manukian flatly denied on Monday a disparaging newspaper report that quoted him as justifying more than a decade ago any method of political struggle, including violence and blackmail, against then President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The pro-Ter-Petrosian daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” published on Saturday excerpts from what it presented as Manukian’s private notes confiscated by security forces during the 1996 crackdown on his National Democratic Union (AZhM) and other major opposition groups. The paper said they were written in the months leading up to the disputed September 1996 election, official results of which showed Ter-Petrosian narrowly defeating Manukian. The latter continues to consider himself the rightful winner of the vote described as deeply flawed by Western observers.
The newspaper allegations are certain to rekindle the long-running feud between the two most important leaders of the 1988 movement for Nagorno-Karabakh’s unification with Armenia who jointly headed the former Soviet republic’s first post-Communist government. They will also almost certainly preclude any cooperation between them in the upcoming presidential election.
Manukian was quoted by “Haykakan Zhamanak” as stressing the need to create a inner-government network of spies who would provide him with confidential information which would then be used for spreading discord within the Ter-Petrosian administration and blackmailing its rival factions. He would also allegedly cultivate “well-to-do friends” who would finance the AZhM and be rewarded with “plots of land and factories” in the event of regime change.
“Given that the people are in combative and revolutionary spirits, it is necessary to artificially heighten them,” Manukian is alleged to have written. “That is, to carry out assassination attempts, explosions in one or another security institution and remain unnoticed.”
Furthermore, Manukian, who served as Armenia’s defense minister during the most successful period of its war with Azerbaijan, was accused of being ready to go as far as to provoke an Azerbaijani military aggression against his country for the sake of regime change. “In a society of masochists only a sadist can be elected president,” he allegedly reasoned in 1996.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Manukian dismissed the written statements attributed to him as a fraud and said he will ask sate prosecutors to launch an official investigation into their authenticity. He said a forensic examination will establish that the handwriting of the notes is not his.
Manukian also argued that Ter-Petrosian did not use the notes to launch criminal proceedings against him while in power. “Isn’t it ridiculous to talk about that now?” he said. “If I or anyone else advocated terrorism when they were in power, why didn’t they arrest and try that person?”
The extensive “Haykakan Zhamanak” article, titled “Vazgen Manukian’s ‘Mein Kampf’” was signed by a certain Garegin Asoyan, an apparent pseudonym. Contacted by RFE/RL, the paper’s editor, Nikol Pashinian, said the hitherto unknown author does not want to talk to the media.
Ter-Petrosian and Manukian, who are both opposed to Armenia’s current leadership, held their first face-to-face meeting in more than a decade last October to discuss the possibility of cooperating before and during the February 19 election. The ex-president hoped that his longtime rival will endorse his presidential candidacy.
However, Manukian, who also plans to run for president, made it clear on November 20 that he will not withdraw from the race in Ter-Petrosian’s favor and that he thinks the latter should not have entered the fray in the first place. He also again accused the ex-president of “stealing” the 1996 election.
Ter-Petrosian, who ordered to troops the streets of Yerevan in 1996 to quell Manukian-led opposition protests against official vote results, maintains that his reelection was “disputed” but not rigged.