Armenia’s ruling party has dismissed as “ridiculous and ignorant” a claim made by a Russian propagandist television channel that accused the South Caucasus nation’s government elites of glorifying Nazism.
Zvezda TV, which is known to be the propagandist arm of Russia’s Ministry of Defense, last week aired a program in which it, in particular, compared the logo of the Republican Party of Armenia’s (HHK) to the emblem of the Third Reich and Armenian military commander and thinker Garegin Nzhdeh, whose ideology the HHK espouses, to World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, claiming that “Armenia’s ruling elites glorify Nazi collaborators.”
The program, in particular, referred to the fact that a statue to Nzhdeh was recently unveiled in the center of the Armenian capital, Yerevan.
“Garegin Nzhdeh is one of the greatest heroes of the Armenian nation and monuments to him should be erected not only in Yerevan, but also in different parts of Armenia,” HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov, who is also a deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday.
“Armenia is a sovereign country and will decide itself whose monuments to erect,” Sharmazanov added.
Sharmazanov described comparisons of the HHK’s logo to a Nazi emblem as “ridiculous and political blind”, at the same time downplaying the fact that Zvezda is a television channel patronized by the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Armenia already heard serious allegations related to Nzhdeh from official Moscow shortly after a monument to Nzhdeh was inaugurated in Yerevan in May 2016 in a ceremony attended by President Serzh Sarkisian and other senior officials affiliated with the ruling party.
“We cannot understand why that statue was placed,” Zakharova said then, stressing that the Russian government is strongly opposed to “any revival, glorification or other manifestations of Nazism, neo-Nazism and extremism.”
Born in the Russian Empire in 1886, Nzhdeh was one of the prominent military leaders of a short-lived independent Armenian republic formed in 1918. In 1920, he mounted armed resistance against the republic’s takeover by Bolshevik Russia in Zangezur, a mountainous region in what is now southeastern Armenia. Nzhdeh and his supporters ended the resistance and fled to neighboring Persia in July 1921 after receiving assurances that the region will not be incorporated into Soviet Azerbaijan.
Nzhdeh was one of several exiled Armenian leaders who pledged allegiance to Nazi Germany in 1942 with the stated aim of saving Soviet Armenia from a possible Turkish invasion after what they expected to be a Soviet defeat by the Third Reich.
Nzhdeh surrendered to advancing Red Army divisions in Bulgaria in 1944 after reportedly offering Josef Stalin to mobilize Armenians for a Soviet assault on Turkey. In 1948, a Soviet court sentenced him to 25 years in prison on charges that mainly stemmed from his “counterrevolutionary” activities in 1920-1921.
Nzhdeh was rehabilitated in Armenia after the republic’s last Communist government was removed from power in 1990. He is widely credited with preserving Armenian control over Zangezur. He is also revered by many Armenians as the founder of a new brand of Armenian nationalism that emerged in the 1930s.
The HHK has espoused Nzhdeh’s Tseghakron ideology, which puts the emphasis on armed self-defense and self-reliance, ever since it was set up in the early 1990s. The HHK’s current coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which is one of the oldest Armenian political parties, also espouses Nzhdeh’s teachings.
Senior HHK figures rejected the Russian criticism back in 2016, downplaying Nzhdeh’s collaboration with Nazi Germany and insisting that he is an Armenian national hero. The Russian Foreign Ministry later softened its stance on the matter, with its spokesperson Zakharova saying that the Armenian authorities’ decision to place Garegin Nzhdeh’s statue in the center of Yerevan was “Armenia’s internal affair.”
In lambasting “certain ruling elites” in Armenia, Russia’s Zvezda TV specifically pointed to a new accord that Armenia plans to sign with the European Union at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels on November 24.
HHK spokesman Sharmazanov has refused to be drawn on whether the kind of program on Russian TV may indicate some dissatisfaction existing among the Russian leadership regarding Yerevan’s planned deal with the EU.
Officials in Armenia have repeatedly stated that their relations with Brussels do not affect Yerevan’s allied relations with Moscow or jeopardize the South Caucasus nation’s membership in the Russian-led trade bloc.
Later on Tuesday Sharmazanov said that Zvezda TV had sent an official letter to the Armenian side admitting that “incorrect statements were made” in its program.