YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation rejected on Wednesday strong personal attacks launched against him during the latest congress of the Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans.
In a further sign of rising political tension in Armenia–Hrant Markarian said the union comprising many influential army officers threatens stability by seeking a dominant political role.
"It is hard to come to terms with the fact that the organization uniting freedom fighters is given a political character and color by those who had by no means fought for the homeland," Markarian told RFE/RL.
Some leading members of Yerkrapah–including Deputy Minister of Defense Astvatsatur Petrosian–slammed Markarian for his recent warning that Armenia’s will not tolerate a military "dictatorship." In an apparent reference to the ARF leader–Petrosian accused unnamed "released criminals" of discrediting the army.
Markarian was sentenced to five years in prison more than two years ago–in a controversial trial of ARF activists and supporters on charges of murder and terrorism.
He was only convicted of for illegal arms possession though. He and most of the other defendants were set free by President Robert Kocharian in February 1998–shortly after the resignation of his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Kocharian called a decree banning ARF activities null & void and freed Markarian and other ARF members in prison.
Markarian described as "depressing" Yerkrapah’s emotional congress which signaled the end of the influential organization’s support for Kocharian.
Several hundred Yerkrapah delegates cheered calls for Kocharian’s resignation–apparently over his failure to prevent the October 27 assassination of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and other top officials.
"They seem to be seeking revenge for the tragedy," Markarian said.
"Their unfounded and illogical speeches are heightening tension and I think are a demonstration of brutal force. I hope that they will come to their senses," he said.
Together with Yerkrapah–the ARF backed Kocharian’s successful presidential bid in the March 1998 elections and has since remained largely loyal to the Armenian president.
The ARF is against the idea of holding fresh presidential elections floated by an influential government minister representing Yerkrapah.
It is seen as a major force on which Kocharian will rely in the coming months in holding off further challenges from his powerful opponents.