Senior officials insisted on Friday that the Armenian authorities have made no final decision yet to erect a monument in Yerevan to Anastas Mikoyan, an Armenian-born Soviet leader who played a part in massive purges ordered by Joseph Stalin.
Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian downplayed last week’s decision by the city’s municipal council to allow him to place Mikoyan’s statue in the center of the Armenian capital. He said it needs to be approved by Armenia’s government.
The decision sparked an uproar from civil society members and social media users. They argue that Mikoyan personally oversaw mass arrests and executions of thousands of people in Soviet Armenia that began in 1937. They say his statue would therefore be an affront to the memory of Armenians killed in Stalin’s Great Purge.
The municipal authorities have still not given a clear reason for the planned statue. Markarian shed no light on their motives as he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) during official celebrations of the 69th anniversary of the Soviet victory in the Second World War.
Markarian said the government will consult with the public before making a final decision. “Historians should also weigh in,” added the mayor, whose late father, former Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, became a political prisoner in 1974, four years before Mikoyan’s death.
Culture Minister Hasmik Poghosian gave similar assurances. “I think that historians should sit down and discuss this issue in great detail,” she said.
Poghosian implied at the same time that it is the Yerevan Mayor’s Office that will ultimately decide whether or not to build the monument. “I think that the municipality will make the right final decision,” she said.
The minister disagreed with those who believe that “Mikoyan has no merits at all.” But asked whether she thinks that the ex-Soviet leader deserves to have his statue in Yerevan, she said, “I can’t give an unequivocal answer to this question.”
Born in a village in northern Armenia in 1895, Mikoyan joined Stalin’s Politburo in 1935 and held other senior positions in Moscow during the Soviet dictator’s long rule. Despite signing death lists in the 1930s and 1940s, he supported Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s historic 1956 speech that denounced Stalin’s personality cult and atrocities. Mikoyan remained a Politburo member after Khrushchev was deposed in 1964. He was the Soviet Union’s nominal head of state in 1964-1965.