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Armenian War Veterans Pick New Pro-Government Leader


Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (L) and Sasun Mikaelian attend a congress of the Yerkrapah Union in Yerevan, April 7, 2019.

The Yerkrapah Union, a once powerful organization uniting thousands of Armenian veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, has elected a close associate of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian as its new leader.

Yerkrapah members unanimously voted for Sasun Mikaelian , a prominent war veteran and the nominal chairman of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, at a weekend congress in Yerevan.

Mikaelian, 61, pledged to resign from the party leadership in May. But he gave no indications that he will also terminate his membership in Civil Contract.

Yerkrapah was established by the late Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and played a major role in Armenian politics in the 1990s and the early 2000s. It began losing its political influence after Sarkisian was assassinated in the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament.

But the group remained linked to the Armenian military in one way or another. It sent thousands of armed volunteers to Nagorno-Karabakh following the outbreak of large-scale hostilities there in April 2016.

Manvel Grigorian, an army general who succeeded Sarkisian as Yerkrapah chairman in 1999, served as Armenia’s deputy defense minister from 2000-2008. He was removed from the military after supporting former President Levon Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election.

In 2010, Grigorian openly pledged allegiance to then President Serzh Sarkisian. He and Yerkrapah helped Sarkisian win reelection in a disputed vote held in 2013.

Grigorian resigned as Yerkrapah leader shortly after being arrested in June 2018 on corruption charges. His arrest came two months after Sarkisian was overthrown in the “velvet revolution” led by Pashinian. Mikaelian actively participated in the protest movement.

The new Yerkrapah leader insisted that he will not turn the veterans’ union into the ruling party’s “appendage.” “You saw what happened when they tried to make Yerkrapah serve the [former] authorities,” he said.

Mikaelian made clear at the same time that Yerkrapah “will never hamper” the current Armenian government.

Pashinian attended and addressed the Yerkrapah congress.

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