“Freedom Fighters” face fight for their own freedom: NKR war veterans among “political prisoners”

General Manvel says Yerkrapah has never been a political structure
Chairman of the Yerkrapah Union of Volunteers (YUV), former Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant-General Manvel Grigoryan stated in his message addressed on Yerkrapah (“Freedom Fighte”) Day last week that Yerkrapah, an organization embracing freedom-fighters, has never been engaged in politics and that no one has the right to exploit the union’s name.

The reality, however, contradicts the general’s statement. Twenty of more than eight dozen detainees considering themselves to be political prisoners (28 of 86 have been released but investigations into their cases continue) are Yerkrapah members.

This statement by the general also contradicts earlier comments made by President Serzh Sargsyan on Public Television in which he said that he never tried to draw Manvel Grigoryan into politics.

“I very much regret and feel pain that he, for unclear reasons, tried to enter politics and made an attempt to disobey the supreme commander-in-chief. I think that details should be established and a solution should be found,” Sargsyan said.

Nevertheless, considering Manvel Grigoryan’s behavior unclear, chairwoman of the Social-Democratic Hunchak Party Lyudmila Sargsyan says that many of Yerkrapah members are more independent now than their chairman.

“Glory and honor to those Yerkrapah members who understood that first of all they are citizens of Armenia and only then Yerkrapah members. And weak authorities can never have a strong person beside them. Yerkrapah members are strong integral individuals concerned with the country and are capable of showing heroism,” says Lyudmila Sargsyan.

Former comrades-in-arms and families of detainees now in custody for their suspected roles in the March 1 melee began hunger strikes in different areas of the republic in support of whom they consider to be political prisoners. This week, Karabakh war veterans in the Shirak province spread a statement wherein they said that the heroes of the Karabakh liberation struggle are being punished today on fabricated charges, for their political views.

The Council of Field Commanders also issued a statement saying that in a situation like this the country cannot develop in a normal course, furthermore, they could lose what they had gained at the cost of heavy losses.

“Zovuni” detachment commander and Yerkrapah member Khachik Simonyan spent 50 days in the basement jail of the National Security Service. During the presidential election he was head of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s campaign office in the Nairi region. He was released from custody on a written agreement not to leave the republic while an investigation of his case was in progress.

“The guys who carried the brunt of war on their shoulders are locked in jails today. I can’t find words to describe the steps the authorities are taking,” Simonyan said. “After all, Yerkrapah’s duty is not only on the battleground, Yerkrapah members are also concerned with the country’s future.”

Tigran Mets detachment commander Vladimir Arakelyan was detained in connection with the March 1 events, but was released after spending 46 days in custody.

“Is it how they thank us for sacrificing our lives in defending this homeland?” Arakelyan says.

In political analyst Aghasi Yenokyan’s opinion, the authorities are conducting a policy that has no prospect.

“Imprisoning and keeping as hostages the guys who once waged heroic battles in Karabakh, they break the whole ideological backbone of the Karabakh liberation struggle,” Yenokyan says.

This week, members of the opposition Heritage faction in parliament Vardan Khachatryan and Zaruhi Postanjyan visited the Vardashen penitentiary where they met 17 detainees.

According to Khachatryan, the detainees were in combat spirits. They said they were ready to spend as much time in jail as was necessary.

“I am very concerned over the fact that Yerkrapah members are behind bars. These are people who sacrificed their health, the welfare of themselves and their families on the alter of statehood and the nation. They, in fact, stood at the sources of our third republic’s statehood,” says Khachatryan. “I urge our authorities to change the measures of restriction applied or declare amnesty. Many of them are the only breadwinners in their families. Have they thought how their families live today?”

Following the recent trials held within the framework of the [March 1-related] criminal case being investigated by the special investigation service and having attended several of them, Helsinki Association Chairman, human rights activist Mikael Danielyan says that the authorities delay the process in order to have time to ease tensions in the country and have a clean image before Europe.

“The Armenian authorities will release those detained before and after the March 1 events – will declare something like amnesty, will release detainees. I think that it should take place before June for the simple reason that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe mentioned that term in its resolution concerning Armenia, however all that will be of a formal nature and the terror and tyranny in Armenia will continue,” he says.

President Serzh Sargsyan on March 19 stated in parliament that he would agree to declaring amnesty only after careful consideration.

“Amnesty will not be a purely political step made to earn a mark from the public. All my steps will be aimed at the country’s development,” the president said.

Postanjyan explains that amnesty may also concern people who do not plead guilty even if verdicts are absent.

“If an act of amnesty is declared and the accused protests his innocence the body in charge of the proceedings would feel constrained to keep him in prison and would have to change the restrictive measure,” says Postanjyan. “That is, they would be released. Later, if the court establishes their guilt and renders a guilty verdict, they will still be released from responsibility under the amnesty act.”

Postanjyan thinks that amnesty is a good idea, it will be in some way a convenient tool in the hands of “hostage” judges to change measures of restriction.

“Otherwise, the measures of restriction applied against detainees should be changed, criminal prosecutions should be stopped, there are even people on whom acquittal verdicts should be passed and these people should be provided with compensation for damages they incurred. These will be the best steps that will meet the criteria of a democratic country,” Postanjyan says.