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An Armenian ‘hero’ of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, Republican Party MP Manvel Grigoryan, has been arrested and his son forced to step down as Mayor of Vagharshapat after the authorities say they discovered large quantities of military aid in the former general’s residences. Footage of the search of Grigoryan’s premises, in which his vast wealth was on display, has caused scandal in Armenia.
Manvel Grigoryan was arrested on Saturday on charges of purchasing and possessing illegal firearms and ammunition. On Sunday, Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) published footage of the search of his premises, which appeared to have uncovered large quantities of illegitimate weapons and ammunition, luxury cars, cash, and more.
Anti-corruption protests against Grigoryan’s son, Vagharshapat Mayor Karen Grigoryan, began two days earlier on 14 June. ‘This is a fight against fear, pressure, racketeer, robbery, corruption that continues in the city for more than ten years. Ejmiatsin has turned into a clan city’, said Artak Sergoyan from rights group the Open Institute of Free Citizen. A counter-protest was also held in support of the mayor.
Vagharshapat, commonly known as Ejmiatsin, is a historic city 18 kilometres west of Yerevan, and is the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
After Armavir’s new governor Gagik Mirijanyan unsuccessfully attempted to mediate between the mayor and protesters, Karen Grigoryan vowed to stay on as mayor. But shortly after the footage of the search of his father’s residence was released, Karen Grigoryan announced his ‘voluntary resignation’ via his Facebook page.
The NSS made another high profile arrest on the same day in Vagharshapat. Artur Asatryan, aka Don Pipo, who the authorities claimed was a ‘thief-in-law’, was detained on charges of kidnapping and torturing three people in Vagharshapat and for illegal possession of firearms. Asatryan had been actively demanding Grigoryan’s resignation. The NSS also arrested four citizens of Russia, reportedly his bodyguards and co-conspirators, on related charges.
Food for soldiers ‘fed to tigers’
After conducting searches of houses belonging to Manvel Grigoryan in the town of Arshaluys, Aknalich village, and in Vagharshapat, the NSS claimed to have found a large stash of luxury items — a motor pool with modern and retro cars and motorbikes — as well as an arsenal of ‘illegally obtained’ arms and army supplies.
The authorities said Manvel Grigoryan’s mansions had stocks of ammunition, including anti-tank mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, bullets, explosives, as well as military vehicles including snowmobiles, SUVs, and an ambulance allegedly donated to the Armenian army by the Armenian community in Russia to be used on the frontline during the 2016 April War.
Supplies also included food and hygiene products, medicine, uniforms and other clothing, all labelled as ‘for soldiers’, which was collected and donated, according to officials, by kindergartens and schools in communities throughout Armenia. Some of the supplies included letters from schoolchildren to soldiers.
The NSS claimed Manvel Grigoryan used food products headed for frontline soldiers during the April war to feed tigers, bears, and ostriches held in a private zoo in one of his residences. This claim was reiterated on Sunday in PM Nikol Pashinyan’s Facebook video address. ‘Even heroes cannot be allowed to steal aid collected by schoolchildren of Gyumri, Vagharshapat, Yerevan […] to feed them to animals instead of soldiers’, claimed the new Armenian prime minister.
Pashinyan said he did not want to violate the principle of the presumption of innocence, but added that suspicions against Grigoryan were ‘justified by the results of the search of his private house’. The Armenian leader vowed not to ‘compromise’ the fight against corruption and to keep the struggle ‘as long as Armenian society supported’ him in it.
On Monday, Chief Prosecutor Artur Davtyan appealed to Pashinyan to initiate procedures to strip Manvel Grigoryan of his parliamentary immunity.
Support for Grigoryan
Manvel Grigoryan is a veteran hero of Nagorno-Karabakh war of 1988–1992. In 2000–2008 Grigoryan served as deputy defence minister and chaired Yerkrapah since 1999, a veterans’ union of volunteers from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Yerkrapah was among the groups to collect aid for the Armenian army during the 2016 April war.
Manvel Grigoryan’s arrest triggered anger among supporters in Yerevan. On Sunday, dozens of members of Yerkrapah blocked a street opposite the NSS offices, resulting in a scuffle with police. Speaking to Caucasian Knot, Yerkrapah spokesperson Vardan Vardanyan said they would not stop protesting until he was freed. On Monday, the first instance court of Avan and Nor Nork districts upheld his pretrial detention.
The Republican Party of Armenia, of which Manvel Grigoryan is a member and sitting MP, expressed support for him calling his arrest a ‘politically motivated’ move against the party and Yerkrapah.
The Republican Party lost their majority in Armenia’s parliament, the National Assembly, earlier in June, after a number of MPs defected in the wake of the ‘Velvet Revolution’ which forced former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan from power.
[Read on OC Media: Keeping up with the Pashinyans: Armenia’s first month after the revolution]
While calling for people to respect the presumption of innocence and wait for the results of the investigation, National Assembly vice president and a Republican Party spokesperson Eduard Sharmazanov said on Monday that anyone who ‘steals soldiers’ bread is a traitor of the nation’.
The head of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Party, Armen Rustamyan, concurred with this sentiment, insisting that ‘Grigoryan is a Karabakh hero, but no one is untouchable in Armenia’.
On Sunday, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hikmat Hajiyev accused Manvel Grigoryan of war crimes, claiming he was a participant of the ‘Khojaly genocide, looting of property of Azerbaijani residents during the occupation of Fuzuli and Jabrayil districts of Azerbaijan, mass killing of prisoners of war and hostage taking’. According to him, Grigoryan maintained his membership of the Republican Party even after saying he did not recognise the Geneva conventions.
Hajiyev recalled an interview with Grigoryan that appeared in RFE/RL in 2014 in which he claimed to have returned from the Karabakh war with hundreds of prisoners, and spoke of using some of them for forced labour, including in his own residence. Hajiyev called on the Armenian government to adhere to ‘democracy and human rights’ and to investigate Grigoryan not only for ‘economic crimes’ but also for war crimes.