By Armen Zakarian
The once powerful Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans avoided issuing any official statements on the Armenian parliamentary elections at a major gathering on Thursday, underscoring its increasingly apolitical status.
Several hundred senior members of the organization met to mark Yerkrapah’s Day, a state holiday instituted in 2001. Significantly, they did not discuss any political issues. The chairman of Yerkrapah’s governing board, General Manvel Grigorian, and other leaders spoke instead of the important role played by Yerkrapah in Armenia’s post-Soviet history.
Grigorian, who is also a deputy defense minister, made only a veiled reference to politics when he appealed to the war veterans to maintain their unity and not to split into rival factions. “Regardless of political views and all kinds of problems, we must respect and believe in ourselves,” he said. “Otherwise, the country will fall apart.”
Only one speaker, parliament deputy Miasnik Malkhasian, mentioned the May 25 elections, urging Yerkrapah to help its members running for the parliament under the majoritarian system.
Yerkrapah similarly avoided taking sides in the recent presidential elections. Some of its leaders and a considerable part of rank-and-file members are critical of President Robert Kocharian and supported his main opposition challenger, Stepan Demirchian. Yerkrapah’s board, however, is dominated by top army commanders who are reluctant to challenge Kocharian.
The Yerkrapah leadership highlighted its ambiguous posture when it awarded honorary medals two prominent men representing the mutually hostile political camps: Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Aram Sarkisian, a leading member of Demirchian’s Artarutyun (Justice) alliance. The latter is also a brother of Vazgen Sarkisian, Yerkrapah’s charismatic founder assassinated in October 1999.
“I am surprised to see them in the same list,” said Smbat Ayvazian, one of Aram’s closest associates. “It’s probably the result of the Yerkrapah board’s complementary policy,” he added jokingly.
Aram Sarkisian, who is one of Kocharian’s most bitter critics, was conspicuously present at the gathering. But he too steered clear of politics in his speech. But speaking to RFE/RL, Ayvazian did accuse the authorities of trying to prevent Yerkrapah members from winning seats in the new parliament.