New Union Formed to Ward Off Opposition

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)–The Nagorno-Karabakh government moved on Wednesday to offset the consolidation of its opponents grouped around General Samvel Babayan–by setting up an alternative union of war veterans as a counterweight to a similar organization supporting the former Karabakh army commander.

An organizing committee of the Union of Artsakh War Veterans headed by Colonel Vitaly Balasanian–the unrecognized republic’s deputy minister of defense–met in Stepanakert to discuss preparations for the organization’s founding congress due next month. Among its leaders is Karabakh’s interior minister–Bako Sahakian.

A statement issued by the new union voiced its support for Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukassian who has been at odds with Babayan since last June. The power struggle between them reached its climax last month–resulting in the influential general’s sacking. Babayan has said he will rally his supporters to contest the showdown parliamentary elections slated for April. Karabakh’s Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the war with Azerbaijan last month threw its weight behind the sacked army commander–demanding Ghoukassian’s resignation.

The formation of the alternative veterans’ group is seen as an attempt to ward off challenges from the Karabakh Yerkrapah. The Ghoukassian government on Thursday released a strongly-worded statement–accusing an unnamed "group of forces" of attempting to heighten political tension in the Armenian-populated disputed territory.

The statement said the local Yerkrapah is trying to expand its membership "at any cost" and alleged that its leaders have embezzled the organization’s funds.

"The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic government supports the unequivocal position of the Union of the Artsakh War Veterans and is ready to assist and cooperate with it," it said–warning that "TheKarabakh government will not tolerate attempts at [setting up] a confrontation."

Opposition circles in Stepanakert claim that the union’s formation was undertaken with the blessing of the Yerkrapah Union in Armenia and its powerful chairman–General Manvel Grigorian.

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