Armenia’s top army general who was dismissed as deputy defense minister in spring 2008 for his presumed links with the opposition during the hotly contested 2008 presidential election earlier that year has been unanimously reinstalled as leader of a paramilitary organization repeatedly accused of meddling into politics during political crises.
The Yerkrapah Union of Volunteers, a structure embracing Karabakh war veterans, went through a major split in the aftermath of a bloody suppression of street demonstrations staged by supporters of former president Levon Ter-Petrosian in the wake of the disputed February 2008 presidential vote that officially gave victory to current President Serzh Sarkisian. Several top Yerkrapah member explicitly supported Ter-Petrosian during his presidential campaign and subsequent street protests in which ten people were killed in clashes with security forces on March 1-2, 2008.
The former deputy chairman of Yerkrapah Myasnik Malkhasian, who was convicted for his alleged role in the post-election unrest that the government said was an attempted coup d’etat, was not present at the major convention of the union on Tuesday. Nor did his name was mentioned in any context at the event. Malkhasian told RFE/RL on the phone that he was not invited to attend the convention.
A majority of Yerkrapah members who supported the opposition movement in 2008 also were left out of the organization’s governing body, except Mkrtich Sapeyan, who was recently released from prison after serving a two-year sentence over his involvement in an incident during Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign in one of the regions, as well as Arabkir detachment commander Hovannes Harutiunian.
Domestic politics was only slightly touched upon during the Yerkrapah convention, nor did its delegates raise the issue of fellow members currently in prison over the post-election events. Speakers instead were making calls for unity in their speeches.
“Unity is needed to exclude the repetition of events like [the post-election clashes on] March 1,  and [the parliamentary shootout on] October 27, ,” reelected Yerkrapah leader General Manvel Grigorian said in his speech, without doing into detail.
The general, who played a major role in the 1992-1994 Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Nagorno-Karabakh, instead, focused in his speech on foreign policy mattes and external challenges facing Armenia.
“All should understand that the Armenians have nothing more to give up. All should also understand that the defense of capital Yerevan begins in the liberated lands, in Karabakh, in the border regions of Armenia,” said Grigorian, adding that Yerkrapah will be in the forefront of the defense of the homeland “should our achievement, Karabakh’s independence, be imperiled.”
Grigorian spoke in favor of “normal, civilized relations” with neighbors, but emphasized that such relations should not come at the cost of concessions.
“We are not against the opening of the border with Turkey, but it should be without preconditions,” he stressed.
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian also spoke at the Yerkrapah convention and delivered a message from President Serzh Sarkisian. He urged the war veterans to rally around the country’s president.
“Today’s situation in the region and the threats that exist around us require consolidation and unity for the sake of our people’s future,” said Ohanian.
Leader of the opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party Aram Sargsian, the brother of slain Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian who was declared Eternal Chairman of Yerkrapah, was the only representative of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress attending the convention.
Sargsian called on his fellow Yerkrapah members “to rectify their mistakes”. He expressed his certitude that Yerkrapah’s next convention will be a ‘pre-term’ one, with foreign policy matters high on its agenda. “Having won in the war, we have been going through the test of peace,” said Sargsian in his speech in which he did not raise any domestic political issues either.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Sargsian, however, said that Yerkrapah should have used its opportunities in the post-election period in 2008 to prevent the March 1 events.
“It is very bad that at that time Yerkrapah did not use or failed to use its potential to be a buffer,” he said.
At the convention the mother of one killed soldier urged Yerkrapah members to ensure the release of another prominent Karabakh war veteran Sasun Mikaelian who has experienced serious health problems lately while serving a lengthy prison term for his alleged role in the post-election unrest. Mairik Parandzem’s appeal for the “Hero of the Nation” was met with applause.
Talking to media after the convention General Grigorian said on this account that “he [Mikaelian] himself should do things for his release.” “No one knows [President] Serzh [Sarkisian] better than him and no one knows Sasun [Mikaelian] better than Serzh [Sarkisian]. Let them settle the matter between themselves,” he said.
Grigorian also commended the generals who obeyed the orders on March 1, 2008, saying that it would have been worse for them had they failed to respect the subordination. “I was the only madman in this country not to obey [the orders],” he said.
Grigorian said that had he openly stood next to the opposition in the post-election period “things would have been pretty bad for the country.” The general also defended the appeal for standing next to the current president that he made at the convention. “Serzh Sarkisian is the Commander-in-Chief of the Republic of Armenia today whether you want it or not,” he said.