A spokesman for Armenia’s ruling party has dismissed as "ridiculous" an accusation made on a Russian television channel that Armenia’s government elites "glorify Nazism."
Zvezda TV, which is viewed in Armenia as the propagandist arm of the Russian Ministry of Defense, last week aired a program that compared the logo of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) to the emblem of the Third Reich.
It also compared Garegin Nzhdeh, a 20th-century Armenian military commander whose ideology the HHK espouses, to World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, and asserted that "Armenia's ruling elites glorify Nazi collaborators."
A statue of Nzhdeh, who briefly allied himself with Nazis during World War II and was imprisoned by Moscow for that act, was erected last year in the center of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in a move criticized by Moscow at the time.
HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov, who is also a deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, defended the statue in comments to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on November 21.
“Garegin Nzhdeh is one of the greatest heroes of the Armenian nation and monuments to him should be erected not only in Yerevan, but also in different parts of Armenia,” he said.
“Armenia is a sovereign country and will decide itself whose monuments to erect,” he added.
Sharmazanov said comparisons of the HHK’s logo to a Nazi emblem are “ridiculous and politically blind."
Moscow previously criticized the Nzhdeh statue shortly after the monument was inaugurated in May 2016 in a ceremony attended by President Serzh Sarkisian and other senior officials affiliated with the ruling party.
“We cannot understand why that statue was placed,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said then, stressing that the Russian government is strongly opposed to “any revival, glorification, or other manifestations of Nazism, neo-Nazism, and extremism.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry later softened its stance on the matter, with its spokesperson Zakharova saying that placing Nzhdeh’s statue in the center of Yerevan was “Armenia’s internal affair.”
Senior HHK figures rejected Russia's criticism at the time, and have downplayed Nzhdeh’s documented collaboration with Nazi Germany, insisting that he is an Armenian national hero.
Born in the Russian Empire in 1886, Nzhdeh was one of the prominent military leaders of a short-lived independent Armenian republic formed in 1918.
In 1920, he mounted armed resistance against the republic’s takeover by Bolshevik Russia in Zangezur, a mountainous region in what is now southeastern Armenia.
Nzhdeh and his supporters ended their resistance and fled to neighboring Persia in July 1921 after receiving assurances that the region would not be incorporated into Soviet Azerbaijan.
Nzhdeh was one of several exiled Armenian leaders who pledged allegiance to Nazi Germany in 1942 with the stated aim of saving Soviet Armenia from a possible Turkish invasion after what they expected to be a Soviet defeat by the Third Reich.
Nzhdeh surrendered to advancing Red Army divisions in Bulgaria in 1944 after reportedly offering to help Soviet dictator Josef Stalin mobilize Armenians for a Soviet assault on Turkey.
In 1948, a Soviet court sentenced him to 25 years in prison on charges that mainly stemmed from his alleged “counterrevolutionary” activities in 1920-1921.
Nzhdeh was rehabilitated in Armenia after the republic’s last Communist government was removed from power in 1990. He is widely credited with preserving Armenian control over Zangezur.
He is also revered by many Armenians as the founder of a new brand of Armenian nationalism that emerged in the 1930s.
The HHK has espoused Nzhdeh’s Tseghakron ideology, which puts the emphasis on armed self-defense and self-reliance, since it was established in the early 1990s.
The HHK’s current coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which is one of the oldest Armenian political parties, also embraces Nzhdeh’s teachings.
In lambasting “certain ruling elites” in Armenia, Russia’s Zvezda TV also singled out an accord that Armenia plans to sign with the European Union at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels on November 24.
HHK spokesman Sharmazanov declined to say whether the criticism indicated dissatisfaction with the planned EU deal in Moscow.
Armenian officials have repeatedly stated that their relations with Brussels do not affect Yerevan’s allied relationship with Moscow or jeopardize the South Caucasus nation’s membership in the Russian-led trade bloc.