In mid-November, an Armavir City Duma (Russian Federation) member doused a memorial board portraying Armenian national hero Garegin Nzhdeh with paint and demanded it be taken down
A monument to Russian poet, playwright and diplomat Alexander Griboedov was doused with red paint late last evening on December 2.
The news was first released on Facebook by the vandal himself: Shagen Harutyunyan, the son of the head of radical nationalist party Tsekhakron, wrote that his deed was an act of revenge for the defacing of a memorial plaque to Armenian national hero Garegin Nzhdeh in the Russian city of Armavir by local city Duma member Alexey Vinogradov.
The plaque was later taken down.
By the morning of December 3, the monument to Griboyedov had already been cleaned.
However, Armenian Facebook users largely objected to the act of vandalism, while Harutyunyan himself justified the move as ‘appropriate.’
The Armenian police are looking into the matter.
The government’s reaction to the incident was expressed by the prime minister’s press secretary Vladimir Karapetyan:
“Vandalism should not be manifested in Armenian society … We condemn the incident.”
Details of the incident
Shagen Harutyunyan’s Facebook photo post was accompanied by the following text:
“Attention! I just doused with paint the monument of the ambassador of the Russian Empire, the writer Griboyedov in response to the [dousing in paint] of a memorial plaque of Garegin Nzhdeh. Details later live.”
Later, during his life broadcast, he explained his action as “an eye for an eye”, and said that his act was not one of vandalism, but a ‘deliberate action’ and an ‘appropriate reaction.’
Harutyunyan also pointed to the lack of a reaction on the part of the authorities as a reason behind his act.
His explanation for the timing of the act was:
“I did this on December 2, the day of the Bolshevization of Armenia and the visit of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Baku.”
Harutyunyan was recently dismissed from his position as assistant to MP Yerjanik Hakopyan of the ruling My Step faction.
The Armenian and Russian media reported on November 13 that Armavir City Council MP Alexey Vinogradov had painted black a memorial plaque to Armenian national hero Garegin Nzhdeh on the premises of an Armenian church.
Vinogradov said that the regional and local authorities, in addition to representatives of the local branch of the Union of Armenians of Russia, had been given two weeks in which to dismantle the plaque to Nzhdeh. That time period ended on November 11, Vinogradov said.
The Armenian Embassy to Russia commented on the incident:
“The actions of the MP of the city Duma of Armavir A. Vinogradov are regarded by us as an act of vandalism on the territory of the church of the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) and manifestation of arrogation, which contradicts the established legal order,” the embassy said in a Facebook post.
On November 30, the plaque was taken down.
The Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Zohrab Mnatsakanyan said the dismantling of the board was ‘strange:’
“The local community said the [plaque was taken down] for restoration. We need more information…”, Mnatsakanyan said, noting the incident took place on the premises of an Armenian church: “I should be cautious in my comments and, naturally, I would not want this issue to fall into the sphere of rights of religious minorities. For this reason, we need more information and will monitor the situation.”
Who is Garegin Nzhdeh?
Garegin Ter-Harutyunyan, better known by the pseudonym Nzhdeh was an Armenian military and state figure who participated in the Armenian liberation movement of the beginning of the 20th century.
He is known as the founder of the concept of Armenian nationalist ideology, which he officially labelled ‘tseghakronism’ – combining the Armenian root words for ‘nation’ and ‘religion.’
During the Second World War, when there was a danger of Turkish invasion of Soviet Armenia, Nzhdeh established ties with Nazi Germany, and offered to participate in the creation of Armenian military units as part of the Wehrmacht.
Subsequently, Nzhdeh explained in a letter to Joseph Stalin two reasons for his cooperation with the Germans, claiming he desired to save the Armenians from the fate of the Jews, and that he could not allow an invasion of Soviet Armenia and “genocide by Turkey of the remaining part of Armenia”.
It is this fact of Nzhdeh’s biography that is still widely discussed and condemned in Russia.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and political parties took shape in Armenia, the predominant ideology was the patriotism and nationalism espoused by Nzhdeh: it was also supported by the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
Harutyunyan family ties to Nzhdeh
Shant Harutyunyan is the founder of the Tseghakron party, and is notorious for his radical views and opposition to all previous authorities of Armenia.
After a protest encouraged by Harutunyan in 2013 resulted in clashes with the police, Harutyunyan and his associates were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment. He was released in November 2018 on amnesty.
His son, Shagen Harutyunyan, is also an activist – he was also arrested in 2013 when he was just 14 years old.
In addition, the younger Harutyunyan bears the name of his grandfather, who in 1966 founded the underground National United Party in the Soviet Union. He was twice imprisoned for anti-Soviet activities, then was deported.
Social media reaction
Facebook users largely expressed indignation over the painting of the Griboyedov monument in Yerevan.
“The action of the activist will become an occasion for the next anti-Armenian materials in the Russian media. An Azerbaijani journalist will ask [ed. Russian Foreign Ministry press service director] Zakharova about this, who will say that this is an ‘act of vandalism’. And anti-Armenian Russian experts will launch a campaign against Armenia and the new authorities of the country. And this is all due to the fact that Shagen Harutyunyan, who lost his job in the parliament, really wanted to get into the information field.”
“In this whole story, there is one positive point: the negative reaction of the society, not even of the very positive attitude towards Russia and its politics, to this stupid act of vandalism. And on the issue of Nzhdeh, we need to work comprehensively with the Russian media and authorities.”
“There will be a positive moment in this story when a criminal case is brought against this insignificance and convicted under the relevant article.”
Others felt a degree of sympathy with Shagen and his act:
“To all critics of Shagen. If the Russian diaspora does nothing [to protect Nzhdeh], if all Armenians do nothing about the demolition of the cemetery in Feodosia, if the adult uncles and aunts are silent, if the Russians are silent, then ‘young people’ act. Blame yourself first of all, and not the young people, in whom blood is boiling from hopelessness, where you drove them.”
“I appeal to everyone, the Armenians who today call Shahen Harutyunyan a vandal or otherwise. How do you evaluate these words of Griboedov: What a vile offspring these Armenians are!”
“Griboedov is known for his arrogant and contemptuous attitude to the region in which he worked, and its residents. For which he paid. Excessively, of course. It would have been enough to flog him.”