YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Meeting at the weekend in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor–60 km north of Yerevan–the board of the influential Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans warned the Armenian authorities that no agreement with Azerbaijan on resolving the Karabakh conflict may be signed without the union’s consent. Yerkrapah leaders’ collective opposition to the return of occupied Azeri territories around Karabakh–which international mediators view as a necessary condition for a lasting peace–may sabotage a solution to the decade-long conflict.
The attendance at the Yerkrapah board meeting of all leading government figures–including Prime Minister Aram Sargsyan and his key ministers–and of the parliament leadership (but not President Robert Kocharian)–underlined Yerkrapah’s strength and influence on developmen’s in the country.
Sargsyan affirmed that he will not agree to any peace proposal unacceptable to Yerkrapah–which was founded by his slain brother Vazgen–and constitutes his main power base.
"We will not allow anybody to decide on the fate of Armenia and Artsakh without asking Yerkrapah’s and the people’s opinion," the union’s chairman–General Manvel Grigorian–told participants. The veterans – among them senior army commanders – must not be sidelined from ongoing efforts to end the Karabakh conflict–he stressed.
"Yerkrapah can’t be left outside these processes," one of Grigorian’s deputies–Miasnik Malkhasian–added.
The warnings against sweeping concessions to Azerbaijan come as the internationally-sponsored negotiating process appears to be regaining momentum after the parliament killings in Yerevan. The most recent peace plan put forward by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reportedly envisaged the return of all but one occupied districts in Azerbaijan proper in exchange for what some analysts describe as Karabakh’s de-facto independence. The Armenian leadership–including former prime minister Vazgen Sargsyan–largely accepted the formula. Yerkrapah’s reluctance to see the strategically important Azeri lands back under Baku’s control raises questions about Yerevan’s ability to forge ahead with a compromise solution. The current premier–Aram Sargsyan–added to the uncertainty when he declared at the gathering: "Rest assured that on this issue my views can’t be different from yours. I can’t accept a decision which you wouldn’t like–especially on the question of lands."
Officially registered as a non-government apolitical organization in 1993–Yerkrapah has come to play a pivotal role in Armenian politics. It was instrumental in quelling the 1996 unrest over the controversial reelection of the then president Levon Ter-Petrosyan and precipitated his resignation in 1998 after he advocated more concessions on Karabakh.
Several rank-and-file veterans attending the high-profile meeting said Kocharian will repeat his predecessor’s fate if he goes against Yerkrapah’s will. "Levon Ter-Petrosyan also wanted to sign an [unacceptable] peace accord. You know how he ended up," said one of them. "We took our lands with blood. Returning them is tantamount to treason," another one agreed. "For 600 years–our country was being conquered. Who gave us a single piece of land back?"
Yerkrapah leaders made it clear that they must have a say on other major issues as well–and were told by premier Sargsyan that they will continue to be reckoned with. He said the political situation in Armenia will not return to normal until the criminal investigation into the October 27 parliament attack is completed and all the guilty are punished.
Yerkrapah–furious about the death of its powerful leader–was at the forefront of verbal attacks launched against Kocharian in the wake of the shock assassinations. He was blamed for failure to prevent the bloodbath. The pro-Yerkrapah chief military prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian–who leads the investigation and also took part in the meeting–said the probe is "moving ahead" but gave no details. The chairman of Yerkrapah’s political wing–the Republican Party of Armenia–called for a "restoration of mutual trust" between leading politicians and parties. Andranik Markarian said the situation is now "stable."
Together with the People’s Party of Armenia–the Republicans form the ruling Unity bloc. People’s Party leader Stepan Demirchian assured that the bloc remains committed to close cooperation with Yerkrapah.
Commenting on the meeting’s implications for the Karabakh peace process–a deputy speaker of the Unity-controlled National Assembly–Tigran Torosian–told RFE/RL on Monday that the parliament majority agrees with Yerkrapah that a future peace deal must be put to public debate.