By Karine Kalantarian and Emil Danielyan
An extreme nationalist politician notorious for his anti-Semitic discourse was arrested on charges of inciting ethnic intolerance late Monday after months of protests by Armenia’s Jewish community. A court in Yerevan allowed prosecutors to keep Armen Avetisian in custody for up to two months pending a criminal investigation into his inflammatory statements.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, meanwhile, drew parallels between the tragic fates of the Armenian and Jewish peoples.
Avetisian, who leads a small party called the Armenian Aryan Union, was arrested in the courtroom immediately after the announcement of the ruling. He is prosecuted under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code that carries between three and six years’ imprisonment for those who whip up “ethnic, racial and religious hatred.”
Sources in the Office of Prosecutor-General told RFE/RL after the court hearing that a criminal case against Avetisian was opened on Friday and that the latter was interrogated by investigators for nearly eight hours on Monday.
Also questioned was Rimma Varzhapetian, the leader of the small Jewish community who has long been calling on the authorities to bring Avetisian to account. “He claims impudently that stability in any country that has a Jewish community is in serious danger,” Varzhapetian said.
Using offensive language, Avetisian has repeatedly blamed the Jews for Armenia’s political and socioeconomic woes. In an interview with the “Iravunk” newspaper earlier this month, he said that he will strive to make sure that all of them are expelled from the country.
Avetisian has also earned notoriety in recent months with his claims that the Armenian government is “infested” with homosexuals. He claimed last month to have sent a list of government officials with a non-traditional sexual orientation to President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.
“Who are the authorities?” Avetisian declared at a news conference last week. “I have the answer. They are foreign spies, anti-national elements that serve Judeo-Masonic interests.”
Interviewed by RFE/RL earlier in the week, the head of the Armenian government’s department on ethnic and religious affairs, Hranush Kharatian, condemned Avetisian’s statements as “irresponsible and absurd.” “But I don’t know if they are criminally punishable,” she said.
Kharatian was herself accused of anti-Semitism by the Armenian Jews after claiming in a newspaper interview last October that “during their Friday gatherings Judaists continue to preach extreme intolerance toward all non-Judaists.” She has since refused to apologize.
Meanwhile, Avetisian remained unrepentant as he appeared before a district court in Yerevan. “I stand by all of my statements and am ready to repeat them. Furthermore, I am going to turn my trial into a Nuremberg trial against the Jews,” “Iravunk” quoted him as saying.
The ultranationalist politician’s arrest came ahead of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the biggest death camp set up by Nazi Germany to exterminate Jews and other "inferior" peoples. Armenia’s Prime Minister Andranik Markarian will be among world leaders who will gather in Poland on Thursday to remember Holocaust victims.
Oskanian, for his part, attended on Monday a special session of the UN General Assembly in New York that commemorated the anniversary. “After Auschwitz, we are all Jews, we are all Gypsies, we are all unfit, deviant and undesirable, for someone, somewhere. After Auschwitz, the conscience of man cannot remain the same,” he said in an emotional speech.
“After Auschwitz one would expect that no one any longer has a right to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear. As an Armenian, I know that a blind eye, a deaf ear and a muted tongue perpetuate the wounds,” he added in a thinly veiled reference to Turkey’s continuing denial of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
“Jews and Armenians are linked forever by Hitler. ‘Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’ said Adolf Hitler, days before he entered Poland.”
(Photolur photo: Armen Avetisian.)