The Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday appeared to have backtracked on its criticism of a recently erected statue in Yerevan of an Armenian nationalist statesman who fought against the Bolsheviks and later collaborated with Nazi Germany.
The ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said the Armenian authorities’ decision to place Garegin Nzhdeh’s statue in the city center is “Armenia’s internal affair.”
Born in the Russian Empire in 1886, Nzhdeh was one of the prominent military leaders of an independent Armenian republic formed in 1918. In 1920, he mounted armed resistance against the republic’s takeover by Bolshevik Russia in Zangezur, a mountainous region in what is now southeastern Armenia. Nzhdeh and his supporters ended the resistance and fled to neighboring Persia in July 1921 after receiving assurances that the region will not be incorporated into Soviet Azerbaijan.
Nzhdeh was one of several exiled Armenian leaders who pledged allegiance to Nazi Germany in 1942 with the stated aim of saving Soviet Armenia from a possible Turkish invasion after what they expected to be a Soviet defeat by the Third Reich.
Nzhdeh surrendered to advancing Red Army divisions in Bulgaria in 1944 after reportedly offering Josef Stalin to mobilize Armenians for a Soviet assault on Turkey. In 1948, a Soviet court sentenced him to 25 years in prison on charges that mainly stemmed from his “counterrevolutionary” activities in 1920-1921.
Nzhdeh was rehabilitated in Armenia after the republic’s last Communist government was removed from power in 1990. He is widely credited with preserving Armenian control over Zangezur. He is also revered by many Armenians as the founder of a new brand of Armenian nationalism that emerged in the 1930s.
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has espoused his Tseghakron ideology, which puts the emphasis on armed self-defense and self-reliance, ever since it was set up in the early 1990s.
Nzhdeh’s statue was unveiled in downtown Yerevan in late May at a ceremony attended by President Serzh Sarkisian and other senior officials affiliated with the ruling party.
“We cannot understand why that statue was placed,” Zakharova said on June 10. She said the Russian government is strongly opposed to “any revival, glorification or other manifestations of Nazism, neo-Nazism and extremism.”
Senior HHK figures rejected the Russian criticism, downplaying Nzhdeh’s collaboration with Nazi Germany and insisting that he is an Armenian national hero. One of them argued that Stalin himself cut deals with Adolf Hitler before the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union.
Speaking to journalists in Yerevan on Monday, Zakharova pointedly declined to reaffirm the criticism of Nzhdeh’s statue and claimed that her June 10 statement was “distorted.” “Issues connected with history are really very complicated, and shame on those who exploit these issues for their political aims,” she said.
“We have been cooperating with Armenia, including on various international platforms, in order to exclude any possibility of glorification of Nazism,” added the Russian official. “In this sense, we feel the very reliable backing of our Armenian partners.”