The Armenian embassy in Russia has condemned what it described as an act of vandalism against a memorial in the southern Russian city of Armavir honoring a historical figure hailed by many Armenians as a national hero.
The embassy warned that the paint attack reportedly committed by a Russian politician in the territory of a local Armenian church on Tuesday could cause ethnic tensions in the community.
Earlier, media reported that Armavir City Duma member Alexei Vinogradov sprayed black paint on the plaque in memory of Garegin Nzhdeh, an Armenian nationalist statesman who fought against the Bolsheviks and later collaborated with Nazi Germany.
“We express our deep indignation over the incident in Armavir. We regard what City Duma member Alexei Vinogradov did as an act of vandalism in the territory of the Armenian Church and a manifestation of arbitrariness running contrary to the legal order. This action does not correspond to the spirit of Armenian-Russian relations and may cause ethnic tensions,” the Armenian embassy in Moscow said, according to Interfax, without specifically mentioning the Nzhdeh memorial plaque.
The Armenian diplomatic mission added that it will notify relevant Russian authorities about the act of vandalism in Armavir.
The attack comes on the heels of an acrimonious exchange during last month’s summit of former Soviet nations in Ashgabad, Turkmenistan, between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian over Nzhdeh.
In his remarks at a meeting of former Soviet leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Aliyev accused Armenia of glorifying Nazism. Pashinian dismissed those accusations and in his turn accused Aliyev of distorting the history of Armenia and World War II.
The dispute got mentions on several talk shows on Russian TV. During one such talk show, “60 Minutes”, aired on Rossiya 1 last month, State Duma deputy Leonid Kalashnikov particularly referred to the memorial plaque honoring Nzhdeh that was unveiled in Armavir by the local Armenian community.
Born in the Russian Empire in 1886, Nzhdeh was one of the prominent military leaders of an independent Armenian republic formed in 1918. In 1920, he mounted armed resistance against the republic’s takeover by Bolshevik Russia in Syunik, a mountainous region in southeastern Armenia.
Nzhdeh was one of several exiled Armenian leaders in Europe 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 Josef Stalin to 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 “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 Syunik. He is also revered by many Armenians as the founder of a new brand of Armenian nationalism that emerged in the 1930s.
A statue to Nzhdeh was inaugurated in the center of Yerevan in 2016 in a ceremony attended by then President Serzh Sarkisian and other senior officials. It drew a negative reaction from Moscow then.
“We cannot understand why that statue was placed,” Russian Foreign Ministry representative 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.”
Moscow later softened its criticism, with Zakharova describing the Armenian authorities’ decision to place Nzhdeh’s statue in Yerevan as “Armenia’s internal affair.”