By Astghik Bedevian
A prominent army general who was dismissed as deputy defense minister last month insisted on Thursday that he did not support opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian before or after Armenia’s recent presidential election.
Lieutenant-General Manvel Grigorian also downplayed the fact that many members of his Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans actively participated in Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign and ensuing anti-government demonstrations.
“I declare with all responsibility that Yerkrapah never engaged and will engage in politics,” he said in a written message to thousands of members of his once powerful organization. “Let nobody exploit the name of Yerkrapah.”
Grigorian was relieved of his duties and forced to retire from the Armenian military by outgoing President Robert Kocharian on April 2. The sacking came just over two weeks after Kocharian’s controversially elected successor, Serzh Sarkisian, said that the general “tried to get into politics and disobey the commander-in-chief” in the wake of the February 19 election.
Ter-Petrosian claimed to have secured the backing of Grigorian and another deputy defense minister, Gurgen Melkonian, as he began on February 21 a campaign of non-stop rallies against the official results of the election. Both generals were conspicuously absent from Kocharian’s meeting two days later with the top army brass during which he ordered the Armed Forces to thwart what he called an opposition attempt at coup d’etat. Just hours after that meeting, six army generals and eight colonels announced that they are ending their membership in Yerkrapah in protest against Grigorian’s failure to stop his organization being “used for dishonest political purposes.”
Many veterans affiliated with Yerkrapah and another organization, called the Test of Spirit, made no secret of their support for Ter-Petrosian’s failed bid to return to power. Dozens of them, including Yerkrapah’s deputy chairman, Miasnik Malkhasian, were arrested in the government’s post-election crackdown on the opposition.
In his message, Grigorian stressed that unlike the Test of Spirit, Yerkrapah did not officially endorse Ter-Petrosian or any other presidential candidate. “I want to say for the last time that I am the kind of a person who does not give anybody the right to speak and act on his behalf,” he said. “I myself am able to speak and act for myself.”
Grigorian claimed that “thousands” of other war veterans campaigned for Sarkisian’s victory in the presidential ballot in their personal capacity. He also said he holds no grudge against Sarkisian and Kocharian.
Grigorian’s message was dedicated to the 16th anniversary of the capture by of the strategic Karabakh town of Shusha, which proved crucial for the Armenian victory in the war with Azerbaijan. The anniversary is a public holiday in Armenia known as Day of Yerkrapah. In what has become a tradition, senior government officials, prominent politicians and war veterans mark the holiday with a visit to the Yerablur military cemetery in Yerevan.
In an apparent effort to further distance himself from the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition, Grigorian visited Yerablur separately this time around, pointedly declining to join a large group of fellow veterans who laid flowers at the grave of Yerkrapah’s late founder Vazgen Sarkisian. The more than 100 Yerkrapah members were instead joined by Ter-Petrosian and publicly reaffirmed their support for Armenia’s first president by chanting opposition slogans and demanding the release of their arrested comrades.
“I feel sad today because worthy guys like Sasun Mikaelian, Hakob Hakobian, Smbat Ayvazian, Mushegh Saghatelian and Miasnik Malkhasian are in prison,” one of them, Martin Baghdasarian, told RFE/RL.