Thursday, June 21, 2018

Yerevan Moves to Restore Control over Military Command, Independent Armed Groups

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – The arrest of General Manvel Grigoryan by the new Armenian government is perhaps the most important development in Yerevan since the popular uprising brought Nikol Pashinyan to power because it helps clean out what has been massive corruption in the military and end the power of independent armed groups.

            By restoring effective government control over the military and taking steps to recover a monopoly on the use of force for the state, Prime Minister Pashinyan has reduced the levers his opponents or Moscow can employ against him and strengthens his hand for additional reforms in the future.  

            Two articles today, one by Ruben Grdzelyan for the Regnum news agency (, and a second by Ukrainian commentator Vitaly Portnikov for the Grani portal (, combine to underscore just how important a development this is.

            The arrest of the general and moves against the militarized groups, Grdzelyan argues, represent not only an effort to restore the state’s monopoly on the use of force but also overcoming some of the negative consequences of the Karabakh war, the active phase of which “was competed already 24 years ago.” 

            These actions are targeted at those who enriched themselves from the war and then gained political influence as a result. “Grigoryan,” he continues, “is a classic representative of a class raised up by war and for decades enriching himself by his former glory, a military version of a philistine.”

            Grigoryan has been the leader of the Ekrap Union of Volunteers since the 1990s. It was much in demand then because the regular army was only getting organized and volunteer groups like his played a large role in the conflict, often acting more independently of the Armenian government than they should have been allowed.

            One might have expected these groups to disappear once the conflict ebbed and the Armenian army took shape, the commentator says; but that didn’t happen. Instead, Grigoryan and others like him exploited their positions to criminally and corruptly enrich themselves and then used their financial clout to play a major political role.

            As a result, until very recently, Grigoryan effectively combined his exploitation of his military reputation with the political clout of his clan, and with this “in essence militarized structure, the authorities always found a need, including Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan.”

            In the course of elections, the general delivered the votes, and “the authorities forgave him” for all his misdeeds. “More than that, the authorities delegated to the general the monopolist right of the state for the use of force,” a step that weakened the state in the eyes of the population and in reality.

            Now, Grdzlyan says, “Pashinyan doesn’t need the support” of this machine,” and his taking steps to disband it.  That will change the nature of power in Yerevan by dramatically expanding the prime minister’s freedom of action and authority.

            Portnikov echoes all these points, but he extends the argument to other post-Soviet states, some of which continue to have untouchable private armies and some of which have managed to disband them. Those in the former category remain in trouble; those in the latter have a chance to move forward just as Pashinyan is now doing. 

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