By Ruzanna Stepanian and Anna Saghabalian
A top army general fired last week for tacitly supporting the Armenian opposition faced the possibility of criminal prosecution on Monday after being accused of issuing death threats to a former close associate.
According to the Office of the Prosecutor-General, the Armenian police are investigating the allegation made by Ara Marukian, a resident of the southern town of Echmiadzin. A spokeswoman for the office, Sona Truzian, said Marukian told the local police that Deputy Defense Minister Manvel Grigorian threatened to kill him and his family members in a phone conversation on Sunday
“An investigation is underway and circumstances are being clarified,” Truzian told RFE/RL. “Nobody has been charged. The police are only looking into the claims made in [Marukian’s] report.”
“I can’t give any details at this point,” she said.
Marukian is a high-ranking employee of the Armavia national airline and, according to law-enforcement sources, had close ties with Grigorian, also a resident of Echmiadzin, until recently. The Armtoday.info news service reported that he claimed to have infuriated the influential general with his active involvement in Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s presidential election campaign.
Grigorian is thought to have supported Sarkisian’s main challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, in the February 19 election. That was the apparent reason why outgoing President Robert Kocharian dismissed him as deputy defense minister on April 2.
Ter-Petrosian claimed to have secured the backing of Grigorian and another deputy defense minister, Gagik Melkonian, as he began on February 21 a campaign of non-stop rallies against the official results of what he considers a rigged election. The Armenian authorities used force to stop the protests on March 1, accusing the opposition leader of attempting to stage a coup d’etat and arresting more than a hundred of his loyalists. Among them are several senior members of the Yerkrapah Union, an influential organization that unites thousands of Armenian veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and is headed by Grigorian.
More than 200 female supporters of Ter-Petrosian gathered on Monday outside the Office of the Prosecutor-General to demand the release of the oppositionists. The protest was timed to coincide with Armenia’s Day of Maternity and Beauty, a public holiday. The protesters, among them relatives of the detainees, chanted “Freedom!” and “Levon!” under the watchful eyes of police officers. They did not try to disperse the crowd.
“We are devoting our holiday to our husbands and brothers who are prosecuted for political reasons,” said Knarik Banuchian. Her husband Arshak is the deputy director of the Matenadaran, Yerevan’s famous institute of ancient manuscripts. He was arrested late last month on a string of charges stemming from his active participation in the Ter-Petrosian-led movement.
“I’m sure they will release the detainees and apologize to them. They can’t carry on like this,” said Melissa Brown, the wife of Aleksandr Arzumanian, a former foreign minister and Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign manager.
Protests also continued in the Vanatur suburb of Hrazdan, the hometown of another arrested opposition figure, parliament deputy Sasun Mikaelian. Dozens of local residents have rallied there on a virtually daily basis in recent weeks to demand Mikaelian’s release. One of them, Arshavir Bozinian, has been on hunger strike for the past 14 days. He was joined in his metal shack on Monday by nine other members of a Mikaelian-led volunteer unit that fought Azerbaijani forces in Karabakh during the early 1990s.
“We are doing this for our commander and other [jailed] freedom fighters,” one of the veterans, Gegham Abrahamian, told RFE/RL. “We have no other means of struggle,” said another hunger striker, David Matevosian.
Larisa Alaverdian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, was also in Vanatur, urging Bozinian to end the hunger strike. But the veteran said he will stop refusing food only if the Hrazdan police stop detaining and harassing participants of the daily protests. “Or else, I will continue this protest until the last beat of my heart,” he told RFE/RL.