By Astghik BedevianThe Armenian authorities will face armed resistance if they decide to arrest more hard-line nationalists opposed to major concessions to Azerbaijan, an opposition leader warned on Tuesday.
Garnik Markarian, who leads a small opposition party called Fatherland and Honor, said he has ordered his regional structures to form special groups of war veterans and other activists for countering the latest government “repressions.”
A senior member of Fatherland Honor, Vartan Malkhasian, as well as a prominent Lebanese-Armenian participant of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Zhirayr Sefilian, were arrested and charged with plotting a violent overthrow of Armenia’s current leadership last week.
The National Security Service (NSS) says they set up a clandestine organization to mount an armed uprising against the government during parliamentary elections expected next spring. The Armenian successor to the Soviet KGB also rounded up about 30 other members of the group called the Alliance of Armenian Volunteers (HKH). All of them were released after questioning.
The case against the two men has been condemned as politically motivated by nearly two dozen opposition parties making up a loose anti-government coalition. Leaders of the Anti-Criminal Movement on Tuesday again demanded their release.
Markarian, whose organization is also part of the grouping, warned the authorities against making more arrests. “Let the president, the defense minister and the criminal regime know that their separate arrests … will have no influence on our activities,” he told a news conference. “The KGB packs which will try to break into homes at night and without any legal grounds will get a worthy riposte.”
“These 50, 100 or thousand people have guns. So don’t play with fire,” added the former police officer.
Sefilian, who leads a hard-line pressure group campaigning against the return of any Armenian-occupied territories in Azerbaijan, and Malkhasian are prosecuted under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code that deals with public calls for a “violent change of constitutional order.” According to the NSS, they made such calls at a meeting of HKH activists held behind the closed doors on December 2.
The transcripts of their speeches at the gathering, which were released by Fatherland and Honor on Tuesday, appear to give weight to the accusations. Sefilian warned, for example, that “we will crack the head of anyone who will dare to surrender land,” adding that “there are many people in our country who are ready to do that.” He urged supporters to organize themselves before attempting “to solve the matter with arms.”
Sefilian also scoffed at past opposition attempts to force regime change with a campaign of peaceful demonstrations. “These people will not quit as a result of peaceful demonstrations or external pressure,” he said, referring to President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
“Getting rid of this criminal regime is a matter of national salvation,” Malkhasian stated, for his part. “We must fight them with their methods. Blood and fire on the enemy! With all methods. By all means.”
(Photolur photo: Zhirayr Sefilian.)