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By Ruzanna Stepanian
A hard-line pressure group opposed to any Armenian territorial concessions to Azerbaijan officially endorsed former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s presidential candidacy on Tuesday despite his conciliatory views on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Alliance of Armenian Volunteers (HKH), largely made up of veterans of the Karabakh war, said Ter-Petrosian is the only opposition leader capable of unseating the country’s “monstrous” leadership and restoring “constitutional order.” “He has the courage to tell the truth, a convincing resolve and wisdom,” it said in a statement.

Armen Yeghian, one of the nine signatories of the statement, said that Ter-Petrosian is restoring Armenians’ faith in democratic change. “The people hope that with Levon Ter-Petrosian at the helm, the opposition will manage to prevent fraud and prevent the authorities from reproducing themselves by illegal and disgraceful means,” he told a news conference.

“If Levon Ter-Petrosian has decided to take part in the game seriously and honestly, having the people by his side, he will definitely succeed,” said Yeghian. “The authorities won’t, no matter how much they use their resources.”

The development followed individual endorsements of Ter-Petrosian’s presidential bid made by the HKH’s two top leaders controversially jailed by the authorities. Zhirayr Sefilian and Vartan Malkhasian were arrested and charged with plotting a coup d’etat in December 2005 just days after holding the founding conference of the HKH. The group’s main stated aim is to prevent the return of any of the Armenian-controlled lands in Azerbaijan proper surrounding Karabakh.

Last July, a Yerevan court convicted Malkhasian of publicly calling for a violent overthrow of Armenia’s government and sentenced him to two years in prison. Sefilian, who is a Lebanese citizen, was cleared of the coup charge but still handed a 18-month jail term under another article of the Armenian Criminal Code that deals with illegal arms possession. Both men have denied the charges as politically motivated.

In its statement, the HKH admitted having “certain differences” with Ter-Petrosian on the Karabakh issue. But it said it is confident that Ter-Petrosian will not rush to accept a compromise solution to the dispute if he returns to power.

“Everyone, including Ter-Petrosian, realizes that a prompt resolution of the Artsakh problem is not timely and possible today,” claimed Yeghian. “We will continue to adhere to our radical position on the liberated territories.”

Ever since ending his nearly decade-long silence last September Ter-Petrosian has repeatedly said he continues to believe that Armenia’s sustainable development is impossible without a compromise peace deal with Azerbaijan and accused the current Armenian leaders of dragging out the conflict’s resolution.

President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and their allies have responded to his statements with renewed allegations that the ex-president wants to “surrender” Karabakh to Azerbaijan.

Sefilian, who had commanded an army battalion during the war with Azerbaijan, dismissed such claims in a November 20 statement from his prison. He said Ter-Petrosian is seeking to win back the Armenian presidency in order to “restore our statehood and constitutional order,” rather than make peace with Azerbaijan.

(Photolur photo: Malkhasian, center, and Sefilian, right, pictured during their trial.)
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