A former Armenian paramilitary organization that had participated in the war with Azerbaijan said on Monday that it has started recruiting new “volunteers” and asked the Armenian military to authorize their deployment on frontline positions.
Smbat Ayvazian, the head of the Metsn Tigran (Tigran the Great) militia, linked the move with this month’s upsurge in fighting along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan and around Nagorno-Karabakh. He said the group has sent a letter to Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian asking the army command to assign specific frontline sections to Metsn Tigran fighters and ensure their interoperability with army units deployed there.
“We have not yet received an official reply from the Ministry of Defense,” Ayvazian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But there has been reaction. They have asked for a meeting with us to discuss how we imagine the course of further action and what steps could be taken.”
“I think that there will be a number of such meetings in the next few days,” he said.
“This doesn’t mean that all the mobilized guys will go to war. This doesn’t mean that we are going to war. But we must get ready,” Ayvazian added, pointing to the recent skirmishes in the Karabakh conflict zone which left at least nine Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers dead.
The armed incidents added to mounting concerns about a renewed Armenian-Azerbaijani war. Armenia’s armed forces and other state structures are due to hold this week exercises that will simulate a general mobilization for such a war. President Serzh Sarkisian and other Armenian leaders have warned Baku against attempting to end the dispute by force. The Yerkrapah Union, a government-linked group uniting thousands of Armenian war veterans, has echoed that warning.
Hundreds of Metsn Tigran members fought Azerbaijan in the 1991-1994 war for Karabakh alongside volunteer fighters affiliated with other Armenian paramilitary groups as well as regular army units. According to Ayvazian, more than 400 of them have died or left Armenia since 1994. But he refused to disclose the number of the group’s remaining members.
“In order to restore our ranks, we decided to call up a mobilization of volunteers,” Ayvazian said. “That process has started. Many people are applying and visiting. We admit them … for a three-month trial period. We will then examine them and see.”
Ever since the late 1990s, Ayvazian has been better known as a leading member of the radical Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party opposed to both Sarkisian and his predecessor Robert Kocharian. Hanrapetutyun withdrew from Armenia’s largest opposition alliance last month, citing serious differences with its leader and another former president, Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Ayvazian denied any connection between the Metsn Tigran initiative and Hanrapetutyun’s activities.