Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Heroes and Villains of Armenia

The Armenian Nation has been in a constant search for heroes and villains, looking to find the proud and courageous leaders who stand in sharp contrast to the corrupt and weak ones. As politicians come and go, it is a common practice to portray historical events in a light favorable to the current authorities: the current situation in Armenia, with the recent arrest of Robert Kocharyan by Nikol Pashinyan’s government, is no different, casting Kocharyan as the nefarious villain and Pashinyan as a crusading hero. However, a brief look into the recent past may paint a different picture.


In the early 1990s, during one of the more difficult years of the Artsakh War, the Secretary-General of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, along with the Soviet Azerbaijani authorities, was trying to portray Artsakh Armenians as “separatists.” Robert Kocharyan, then the de facto leader of Artsakh, met with Russian journalist Andrey Karaulov to defend the interests of the Armenian Nation in front of the entire Soviet audience. During the interview, Karaulov coldly asked Kocharyan what the international community can do to successfully force the discontinuation of fighting in a conflict such as this, one where Kocharyan had to take his own brother to a hospital hours before the interview because he was severely wounded in battle. Kocharyan replied stoically: “a war is a war for everyone, for me, for my brother, and for all of us who have to bear the hardships of it,” adding that he never doubts that peace will eventually prevail.

Robert Kocharyan as Artsakh Prime Minister

Years later, in 1997, Vazgen Sargsyan, the Defense Minister of Armenia, traveled to Stepanakert to ask Kocharyan to move to Yerevan and help with the unstable and dangerous situation there: Armenia is on the verge of economic collapse. Kocharyan initially refused, saying that there is a lot yet to rebuild in post-war Artsakh. Sargsyan insisted, explaining that the dangerous policies of President Levon Ter-Petrosyan – who did not believe that Armenia is capable of keeping the Artsakh territories – are on the verge of ruining Armenia. Hearing this, Kocharyan eventually agreed, putting the interests of Armenia above everything else.

Upon Ter-Petrosyan’s forced resignation, caused by national outrage at his treasonous position on Artsakh, Kocharyan was elected as his replacement. He was entrusted with the position because as a nationalist and a military leader during the Artsakh War, it would have been incomprehensible to imagine he would continue Ter-Petrosyan’s policies.


As Kocharyan settled into his role in Yerevan, a little-known journalist named Nikol Pashinyan was being kicked out of Yerevan State University due to poor attendance while being sued for publishing false information about Members of Parliament and their families (two decades later, Pashinyan, days away from seizing power, admitted that he does not have a university diploma but claimed it was because he was critical of the university leadership rather than due to poor attendance).

Pashinyan was fined $25,000 and his newspaper, Oragir, was on the verge of closing down due to poor management as well as a lack of any interest from the public in the so-called “compromising” material. Prior to its closing, the newspaper was affiliated with the Nor Ooghi party of Ashot Bleyan, the former Education Minister of the Ter-Petrosyan administration.

In a 1999 article, Asbarez described the fiercely anti-nationalistic Bleyan thus: “At the height of the [Artsakh] war with Azerbaijan he visited Baku and articulated concessions which went against the course of the political policies of the [Artsakh] government. As education minister, Bleyan advocated for the abolition of teaching about the Genocide from Armenia’s public school curriculum, saying that Armenia’s new generations must be exposed to ‘more pleasant’ topics.” A decade later, Pashinyan would send his children to the Mkhitar Sebastatsi Education Complex founded and operated by Ashot Bleyan.


Armenia eventually recovered from the economic and political crises of the 1990s under Kocharyan’s leadership. Indeed, during Kocharyan’s tenure, the country looked starkly different from the lawless and poverty-stricken Ter-Petrosyan years. By many measures, Armenia was on its way to becoming a safe and prosperous country.

In 2005, Kocharyan was speaking at the European Council. Answering a provocative question from an Azerbaijani journalist regarding his involvement during the Artsakh War, Kocharyan replied: “my roots are from Artsakh and from 1988, my children had no childhood. From 1991 to 1994 my entire family lived in basements, under the bombings of Azerbaijani rockets and jets. I am proud of my involvement in the military activities and I am proud of the result that we have achieved”. His unequivocal response resulted in applause from the Council.

As Kocharyan was defending the interests of Armenia in international institutions, Pashinyan abandoned his hopes of owning a newspaper and began writing for another one called Haykakan Zhamanak, affiliated with former parliamentarian Petros Makeyan, an ally of Levon Ter-Petrosyan.

In a report from the period, the United States State Department called both Oragir and Haykakan Zhamanak “sensationalist political tabloids.” John Evans, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia at the time, wrote in a leaked report that Haykakan Zhamanak has a “reputation for publishing unfounded stories that tend not to be borne out.” The U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty described Haykakan Zhamanak as “sympathetic to Armenia’s former leadership [Ter-Petrosyan’s government].”

While writing about the Artsakh negotiation process in Haykakan Zhamanak, Pashinyan said, “It amazes me that in our country there are still people who have illusions about the occupied territories… I don’t agree that with good diplomacy we can prevent the return of those territories to Azerbaijan. Instead of worrying about our own lands, we are worried about lands which are not ours.”

Fifteen years later, parliamentarian Arman Saghatelyan reminded Pashinyan of these treacherous words at the parliamentary hearing to elect him prime minister in May of 2018; Pashinyan falsely claimed that this was a lie and an act of disinformation. Saghatelyan subsequently presented the hard copy of the newspaper, to which Pashinyan again avoided taking responsibility for his words, claiming that they were being “misrepresented.” Saghatelyan, who shares Pashinyan’s birth year, may have been especially inclined to make this point publicly as he was a decorated volunteer soldier in Artsakh during the fighting whereas Pashinyan had completely avoided the war and any military service thereafter.

Parliamentarian Arman Saghatelyan in the National Assembly


When Kocharyan’s second term came to an end, he did not seek to stay in power, becoming a rare exception in early post-Soviet space as a leader of a country who voluntarily forewent an attempt to stay in power for a third term. Around this time, Pashinyan, still an unsuccessful and largely unknown journalist, decided to try his luck in politics, joining the campaign of Levon Ter-Petrosyan in his bid to once again take power in Armenia in spite of the disastrous legacy.

Receiving a mere 21.5% of popular vote, Ter-Petrosyan refused to recognize the results of the election and his supporters launched non-stop protests at Freedom Square. As a means to mobilize his supporters, Ter-Petrosyan declared that key military personnel, including two Deputy Ministers of Defense, Manvel Grigoryan and Gagik Melkonyan, were planning on joining them.Together with Pashinyan, they happily chanted: “Manvel! Manvel!”, selfishly dragging the military into their political theater.

On March 1, parliamentarian Vardan Khachatryan reached an agreement with the police leadership to continue the protests the next day, on March 2. However, in a recorded phone call, Pashinyan was sent by Alexander Arzumanyan to instruct the crowd to ignore that command and to continue the protests. Doing as he was told, the young Pashinyan called for the people to create barricades and to arm themselves with whatever they can find, including rocks and sticks. Despite provoking the masses, Pashinyan himself does not face the police, who are forced to defend themselves against the enraged protesters. Instead, as the fatally violent clashes between protestors and police take place on the evening of March 1, Pashinyan ran away under the cover of night and went into hiding for more than a year before turning himself into the police.

While Pashinyan has since laid blame on the deaths of March 1 on Robert Kocharyan and his Government, including Serzh Sargsyan, Ter-Petrosyan’s opponent in the election, he has never made mention of his own culpability in those deaths. Joseph Pennington, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, described Pashinyan in official cables as Ter-Petrosyan’s “most radical lieutenant” who “used extreme rhetoric to exhort protesters to fight” on March 1. Pennington also claimed that “there is credible evidence that on March 1 Pashinyan did in fact incite demonstrators to engage in violent confrontations with police.”

Leaders of the 2008 Levon Ter-Petrosyan campaign (L-R: Sasun Mikaelyan, Ter-Petrosyan, Pashinyan)


In the following years, Kocharyan kept his promise of not interfering in political processes while Pashinyan, released thanks to a government amnesty after serving only two years in jail after turning himself in and then claiming he was a political prisoner, continues to pursue his political ambitions.

Pashinyan’s efforts coincided with Ter-Petrosyan’s former supporters continuing their efforts, begun during Kocharyan’s years, of discrediting the government and creating an atmosphere of vitriol, often peppered with colorful and vile language.

During this time, several myths were created to support the crusade against the government, including that Armenia’s people were living under a “regime of oppression” and a number of conspiracy theories about the assassination of Vazgen Sargsyan on October 27, 1999 and the deaths on March 1, 2008, which always seemed to conclude that the responsible parties were Robert Kocharyan and members of his Government. Over the decades they were repeated by Ter-Petrosyan, Pashinyan, and their supporters, the unsubstantiated myths became accepted as fact and Kocharyan, among other previously-respected leaders, became demonized.

By the time Pashinyan initiated yet another campaign for power in April 2018, he was able to call upon the decades-long propaganda campaign waged by himself, Ter-Petrosyan, and their allies. And now, after taking power, Pashinyan has felt the need to continue pandering to his supporters, presenting himself as the hero who has come to save Armenia. Approaching his 100-day mark, Pashinyan’s administration arrested and jailed Kocharyan on legally questionable grounds.

And so Armenia is captivated by its new hero, a prime minister who evaded the war, called for Artsakh’s lands to be given to Azerbaijan, and ran away on the evening of March 1 after calling for the people who died to arm themselves. Meanwhile, the man who was sheltering his family in a basement during the Azerbaijani shelling of Stepanakert, who was fighting to liberate Armenian lands, and who brought Armenia back from the brink of collapse is the villain sitting in jail.

Arresting a former leader of the country based on years of dubious propaganda sets a precedent that can have serious negative implications for Armenia from which no one is immune. And, as Pashinyan and his supporters have shown, memories in Armenia can be short and selective.

President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan


  1. Avery Avery Aug 13, 2018

    A great article.
    Very timely and brave.
    Brave because there seems to be a wave of Pashinyan worship sweeping both Armenia and Armenian Diaspora, and if you are against Pashinyan, you are…..something.
    The Messiah has Arrived.
    Agree with most of the sentiments and assertions, with some strong reservations and retorts.
    I will separate my comments into two posts.
    Will address President Levon Ter-Petrossian in the second.
    First, regarding PM Pashinayn and how he became PM.
    There was something about him that did not feel right, but I could not put my finger on it.
    In particular, the malodor of a putative ‘revolutionary’ was disconcerting for me.
    The fact that he met former President Sargsyan in a backpack was a little strange, to say the least.
    Author’s revelation that Pashinyan used the phrase “…. the occupied territories….” should have disqualified him from becoming the Commander in Chief
    of the armed forces of Armenia, and yet here we are.
    Nevertheless, Pashinyan becoming PM on the crest of a popular outpouring of anger by The People is 100% Pres Serj Sargsyan’s and RPA’s fault.
    When Sargsyan sold his constitutional change to the people, he expressly promised he would not become PM, and thus perpetuate his rule on the sly.
    He lied, he spat on the face of the people, and the humiliation he suffered was richly deserved.
    The RPA was either tone-deaf or had become so drunk with power that they, like idiots, elected Sargsyan as PM…..and the rest is history, as they say.
    All the years of service to the Armenian state and nationhood and all his good works went down the drain in a flash.
    The fact that General Manvel Grigoryan was not brought to justice under Sargsyan’s administration are the final nails on Sargsayn’s political coffin.
    Illegal weapons is one thing, but stealing soldiers’ rations?
    There can be doubt that NSS knew about, yet apparently Sargsyan would not allow them to touch Grigoryan.
    There were others like Gen Grigoryan: less egregious, but clearly being shamefully protected by the administration.
    Finally, the last two paragraphs by the author nail it:
    [And so Armenia is captivated by its new hero, a prime minister who evaded the war, called for Artsakh’s lands to be given to Azerbaijan,
    and ran away on the evening of March 1 after calling for the people who died to arm themselves.
    Meanwhile, the man who was sheltering his family in a basement during the Azerbaijani shelling of Stepanakert,
    who was fighting to liberate Armenian lands, and who brought Armenia back from the brink of collapse is the villain sitting in jail.
    Arresting a former leader of the country based on years of dubious propaganda sets a precedent that can have serious negative
    implications for Armenia from which no one is immune. And, as Pashinyan and his supporters have shown,
    memories in Armenia can be short and selective.]
    We Armenians have a few defective ones in our 5,000+ years old genes.
    This is one of them.
    Great nations seem to have figured it out and have learned to suppress it (….or even better, have eliminated it).
    To wit: former Russian President Yeltsin ordered the Russian military to attack the Russian Parliament in 1993.
    Unlike in Yerevan, there is no dispute who started the shooting and who ordered the military to open fire.
    Yeltsin’s dissolving of the Parliament was clearly illegal.
    But I am happy Yeltsin prevailed and not the Parliamentary faction (…good for Armenia at the time).
    Nevertheless, about 200 people were killed by official stats and about 400 wounded.
    Unofficially about 2,000 were said to have been killed.
    Yeltsin also was mentally absent, or drunk, or partying, while Russia was being looted to the tune of $100s of billions by Russian gangsters who took
    the loot to Tel Aviv or London, and by other Western “helpers”, who helped themselves to Russia’s national wealth.
    Russia came very close to being broken up.
    Yet Yeltin was allowed to retire peacefully after his term ended, and the current administration is even building something similar to US Presidential Libraries
    in honor of Yeltsin, a former President of RF. His successors put the interests of their Nation above their petty political or personal squabbles.
    Yet, like the author said, an Armenian PM who was absent during the life-or-death struggle of Armenia & Artsakh – and who was chosen by the citizens of Armenia – jails one of the singular heroes of the Artsakh war of Survival and Liberation: on what charge?
    What kind of people are we?

  2. Avo Avo Aug 14, 2018

    Wow, Nazaretyan left out almost all of Kocharyan’s time in the presidency and the corrupt and violent incidents that took place during. Though loused in conspiracy, the 1998 Parliamentary shootings are still a topic that Kocharyan is tied to. Along with with the killing of his classmate at the Poplavok and many other deaths he’s tied to etc… Why does a President own the majority of the banking system in the country. Any abuse of power? He was the one who really consolidated the system that this pan-Armenian revolution was so much against.

    What about Pashinyan’s popularity as the editor of Haykakan Jamanak? He was a big deal at the time. What about his political career in Parliament and the founding of his party. He is among the most consistent whistle blowers in modern Armenian politics? What about him changing some of his political stances in recent years?
    I understand there is limited space for these two men’s lives but what is this amateur modern Armenian political history article?
    I respect trying to see things from a different perspective but this is a extremely selective article in actually trying to create a hero and villain.

  3. Avery Avery Aug 14, 2018

    Mr. Nazaretyan:
    You wrote this apt closing sentence: [“……, memories in Armenia can be short and selective.”]
    Right: yet you yourself appear to have short and selective memory when it comes to RoA’s first President Levon Ter-Petrossian.
    At the outset let me be clear that LTP has made many mistakes: which RoA leader hasn’t?
    Which leader of _any_ nation hasn’t.
    I also hold LTP responsible for the ugly events of March 1st, 2008.
    I don’t beleive for a second he had anything to do with the gun violence, but he was smart enough and experienced enough to know that enemies of Armenia could use the situation to cause trouble. He should have never called for mass protests.
    He should have announced publicly that he had lost and asked everyone to go home.
    There is a (Western) Armenian saying: “Ըրածնին Մեծ պզտիկութիուն է.”
    LTP’s Ըրածը Մեծ պզտիկութիուն էր.
    However, I also don’t forget the good he did and hold him in high regard for his outstanding leadership in the terrible years of Independence and war.
    To call him a traitor is outrageous.
    Same with Pashinyan: he is not qualified to be commander in chief of RoA for writing “occupied” territories. But, sorry, saying it is not treason.
    A person can genuinely, if naivly, believe that if Armenia & Artsakh gave some of our historic lands to the nomad squatters they might, just might, leave us alone. (they won’t).Or a father/mother afraid to lose their one and only or last son in another war might believe the same. Does not a priori make them “traitors”.
    A charge of treason is a very serious charge and requires a very high threshold.
    And if saying or negotiating around “occupied” territories is treason, then Pres Kocharyan is also treasonous.
    Because every RoA president, including Kocharyan, has officially and very openly negotiated with the nomad war criminal and gangster Aliey regarding……yes……the so-called “return” of so-called “occupied” 7 territories (the infamous Madrid Principles).
    The same principles that Armenia and NKR were forced to accept at gunpoint in May of 1994, the guns being wielded by Russia _and_ US _and_ France (…with some others doing the dirty work behind the curtain, like UK: you know, British Petrolium and all that…)
    Kocharyan also made the mistake of dropping NKR from the negotiating table: his intention was good, but it was a serious mistake. A result of being an outstanding local wartime leader, but highly inexperienced in international intrigue and confusing the two abilities.
    Here are some of the reasons that I consider LTP an excellent first Presidet of RoA:
    1) I was not in Armenia at the time, but naturally was following all the events since the earthquake onwards. I remember LTP making speeches from his office (actually a small room) with just a couple incandescent lamps for illumination during the horrible days of blockade, natural gas line through Georgia being blown up every week, no heating oil, no electricity, food shortages, war,…LTP never uttered one word of giving up, not one word of compromise with the invaders, not a hint of defeatism….always optimistic and confident of our victory, always speaking from a moral high ground, confident in our people’s cause and ultimate victory.
    2) LTP recognized his natural abilities and appointed Vazgen Sargsyan as DM. We all know what effect that had on the battlefield.
    3) After Armenian forces threw out the nomad invaders from NKR when they had occupied about 50% of NKR in 1992 and cleared them all out of NKR proper, they started liberating ancestral lands outside NKR footprint (around 1993). There is a short video on Youtube (1998 June ‘Վազգեն Սարգսյանը Լևոն Տեր-Պետրոսյանի մասին’) where the Sparapet talks about it. He says that Armenian military was terrified what the ‘world’ would do to the ‘aggressor’ Armenians. World did nothing and Armenian forces reached the Arax river. He gives LTP the well deserved credit for his diplomatic skills and maneuvering in keeping the anti-Armenian howling/cackling hyenas at bay, while Armenian tanks were rolling towards Arax.
    4) LTP is the one who asked both Serj Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan to come to RoA and help build a stronger State. To erase any fissures between people of Artsakh and mother Armenia. (Vazgen Sargsyan talks about that issue too).
    5) There is lots more to ennumerate, but this post is already long. I’ll just mention two more names. If people don’t already know, they can find out who they were/are and what they did: (legendary) Lt. Gen. Kristofor Ivanian (72 at the time) showed up unannouced in Yerevan (from Russia) when things were really, really bad in the war for our side, and said he was there to join the fight. He was first ignored by the lower ranks who did not know who he was. As soon as LTP was informed about him, he arranged for a plush office for Ivanian, appointed the Lt.Gen. as his special advisor, with an aid de camp and a secretary; later LTP invited (legendary) Gen. Norat Ter-Grigoryants (from Russia) to Armenia and asked him to reform RoA’s military into a modern, professional force.
    People who criticize President Levon Ter-Petrossian for his mistakes and failings are right to criticize: he was in charge.
    Good or bad, when you are in charge, you are in charge.
    But the same people strangely forget to give him credit for the victory of Artsakh war.
    He was the Commander in Chief of RoA and he made the right decisions at the right times (….I listed some above) which greatly and materially contributed to the Victory. No, he didn’t fight in the trenches, but neither did Churchill, for example: and yet Churchill is credited and admired by the British people for his leadership during WW2 and victory. (…..notwithstanding things like the Bombing of Coventry: despite advance knowledge of the raid via Ultra, Churchill let the Germans bomb Coventry and kill 100s of British civilians to protect the priceless secret of Ultra decodes).
    That’s how it goes.
    And we Armenians better start learning the lessons that Great nations have learned.
    Yes, we were a Great nation once during Tigran the Great’s time.
    But something happened after that peak, and that is partly why we are in the pickle we are in now.
    We were and are a Great ethnos, a Great people, but we are missing something that prevents us from becoming a great nation/state again.

  4. Dr. Anahit Babayan Dr. Anahit Babayan Aug 27, 2018

    Dear Mr. Nazaretyan,

    Have you read the whole article of Nikol Pashinyan (2010) that you cite here? From your conclusion and interpretation, I can feel that you did not get the main idea of this statement and understood it as Saghatelyan (manipulated) presented on May 1, 2018. I would suggest you to read it first. Thanks!

  5. Armine Hakobyan Armine Hakobyan Feb 16, 2019

    Dear Stepan

    I don’t know if you grew up in the diaspora or in Armenia, but it is so easy to speak when you are out of Armenia.

    I have a simple message. If Kocharyan was indeed an Artsakhian hero, it doesn’t mean that should allow him and his oligarch friends to rape Armenia after that. The people of Armenia have spoken and you should respect that. We have not forgotten the sacrifices made in Artsakh, and our boys have been sent year upon year to help defend those sacrifices.

    I would like to recall the way we have lived since the Soviet Union collapsed up to the time when Pashinyan came to power. It was us going through years without food, electricity, gas, water. It was us walking kilometers to bring water in buckets, or standing hours in a line for bread and then finding out that the bread was finished and we had to go back home without it, to a home which was cold and dark. The years that we lived with the hope that we are going through all this for a better future, for a united Armenia and Artsakh.

    We went through all of these years believing our leaders, though sometimes we would hear about some people like ‘General’ Manvel, taking our men to Artsakh and not looking after them, leaving the men there beyond their service, without food and they needed to roam in the fields to find some thing to cook, or they would make some wooden carvings to exchange for food. Later we see Manvel was thieving food from our servicemen to give to his captive animals he used to entertain himself with.

    There are so much stuff to write about. But we are not talking about it today. Please don’t pick a side, show the facts. My experiences are divergent from your recollections of Pashinyan, which I believe have been exaggerated to try and portray him as some sort of villain. This is not true as far as I know. In particular, the firing of Pashinyan from the university was not as you put it for publishing false information. He was fired for writing an article about corruption that angered the university elite. Surprise, surprise this was seen as a threat.

    As for your references to Pahinyan’s ‘avoidance of service’, you have conveniently forgotten to mention that this was because he was the third son in his family and in accordance with the law – as no family would want to potentially lose every boy to the horrors of conflict. So do you seek to vilify every young man in Armenia who ‘avoided service’ because of this law? Please note that the sons of the oligarchy connected to the Kocharyan presidency didn’t serve in the army (Kocharyan’s sons served in Yerevan and did not spend one night in a military base), wheras Pashinyan has sent his son to the army – and to the front lines in Artsakh. All of this you have neglected to mention, which undermines the authenticity of your article.

    If Kocharyan was such a hero, he would never become a rich person in poor Armenia, but would serve his people with a dignity and pride. We wouldn’t have cases with Poghosyan or March 1st.

    As for the Pashinyan government, time will tell. But for the moment we have hope and we ask the diaspora to support us as we try to transition away from corruption, not to divide us as a people with biased story-telling because that will inevitably return the villains to Armenia. For me it is writing like this that is dangerous because it divides us as a people, and allows our weakness to be taken advantage of by our enemies. Please do your best to provide balanced information and not divide us.

  6. Shogh Tarpinian Shogh Tarpinian Jun 11, 2019

    What about the embezzled monies of Kocharian !! namely the
    4 Billion that’s taken away from the people and the country!!
    I would suggest you make full disclosure of such embezzlement as well in speaking about “kocharian the president”……!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *