By Astghik Bedevian
The Yerkrapah Union will not endorse any of the Armenian parties gearing up for next spring’s parliamentary elections, a top army general leading the influential organization of veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war said over the weekend.
Deputy Defense Minister Manvel Grigorian said Yerkrapah will not contest the elections in any way, even if some of its politically active members decide to enter the fray. He also stopped short of pledging support for Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s reputed plans to become Armenia’s next president.
Reports in the Armenian press said claimed last week that Sarkisian is seeking Yerkrapah’s backing for his participation in the 2008 election.
“We will only defend justice,” Grigorian stated vaguely after being unanimously reelected as Yerkrapah chairman at a conference attended by hundreds of war veterans.
Grigorian also spoke out against possible use of armed forces against peaceful demonstrators demanding regime change. “I personally won’t come out [against the people],” he said. “The army is supposed to defend the people. The army belongs to the people, it’s not private property.”
“He who uses the army against the people is not a member of the nation,” added the mustachioed general.
The one-day conference also elected members of Yerkrapah’s new, larger governing board, among them Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian and some members of the Armenian army’s top brass. Also reelected to the board was Aram Sarkisian, a brother of Yerkrapah’s assassinated founder Vazgen Sarkisian who leads Armenia’s most radical opposition party.
Aram Sarkisian’s passionate speech at the conference was greeted with rapturous applause, highlighting war veterans’ enduring reverence of his late brother and dissatisfaction with the country’s current leadership. Sarkisian was visibly content with their mood. In his speech, he avoided customary calls for regime change, criticizing only President Robert Kocharian’s policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Grigorian, for his part, signaled his unease over the Kocharian administration’s readiness to expedite the return of most of the Armenian-controlled territories in Azerbaijan in return for a future referendum of self-determination in Karabakh. “I did not and will not say anything about concessions,” he said. “I would rather die now than say such a thing. We have a lot to take, but nothing to give away.”