They look like versions of the European far right. But many suspect a connection with the ousted government.
A group that recently emerged in Armenia has a familiar list of enemies: LGBT advocates, the European Union, George Soros. Its members are fond of wearing black shirts and trumpeting aggressive, conservative views.
That orientation at first glance appears to put the group, Adekvad, squarely in the European far-right movement. The far right also has risen in neighboring Georgia, taking advantage of the same conditions now present in Armenia: a liberalizing government and a socially conservative population.
But the picture in Armenia appears to be more complicated. Many doubt the sincerity of Adekvad’s professed beliefs, suspecting that the group is secretly supported by Armenia’s former authorities, or Russia, or both, merely to sow havoc. Adekvad’s leaders, meanwhile, insist that they are simply providing an alternative voice for Armenians disaffected with the new regime.
Whatever the case, its emergence has roiled the Armenian political scene, raising the specter of a dirtier, more confrontational brand of politics.
Adekvad formed last year on social media shortly after the “Velvet Revolution” that brought Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to power. In May it announced its entry into real-world politics with an intention to create a political party. It had under 30,000 followers on Facebook (its primary outlet) but was launched into the national political discussion a few days later when Pashinyan issued a dark warning, saying Adekvad was “preparing to use violence” and calling on law enforcement to strike a “very strong counter-blow.” Two days later, police detained several members, leading some to accuse Pashinyan of unnecessarily elevating the group’s profile by giving it the “halo of the persecuted.”
Adekvad had already become notorious to its most frequent targets.
The group, along with a smaller organization with some of the same members, Veto, regularly attacks LGBT Armenians on social media. It has repeatedly supported – and even celebrated – a violent mob attack against a group of LGBT activists and their friends in the village of Shurnukh last August. Several days after the attack, in which nine teenagers were injured, one of Adekvad’s founders, Narek Malyan, posed for a Facebook photo in front of the sign leading into the village, with a caption reading “Free Shurnukh welcomes you.” Another senior member, Artur Danielyan, wrote in a recent Facebook post that LGBT people should be “isolated” like “schizophrenics.”
Adekvad and Veto also frequently attack other liberal activists, in particular the local office of the Open Society Foundations. [Disclaimer: Eurasianet receives funding from the Open Society Foundations, among other donors. OSF is part of the Soros Foundations network. The Open Society Foundations – Armenia is a separate entity in the Soros network.] Veto has held multiple demonstrations outside the OSF offices in Yerevan and regularly posts photos of the organization’s senior officers on social media. “We will continue [the demonstrations] until the extermination of the dirty, deceitful mercenaries,” Malyan said at one such protest, on June 11.
The most common targets, though, are the new authorities and Pashinyan in particular. While most other opposition forces in the country have lost credibility over the years because of cooperation with various disgraced governments, Adekvad, being new, provides a fresh platform for those who don’t like Pashinyan’s government.
“The current authorities have not fed us anything but boasts,” said Gayane Nazaryan, a sports journalist who says she is impressed with the group, if not exactly a fan. “It’s completely different with Adekvad, where I hear stuff that has a basis, a foundation. They talk about topics that others avoid,” she told Eurasianet.
The group’s message has been amplified by more mainstream media. It gets frequent airtime on TV5, a network owned by a friend of former President Robert Kocharyan. Leaders also have made appearances on Kentron, a network controlled by Gagik Tsarukyan, head of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party, and Yerkir Media, run by another opposition party, Armenian Revolutionary Federation – Dashnaktsutyun.
Adekvad is not broadly popular, and Veto even less so. Nevertheless, they should be taken seriously “because they are about violence,” said Yuri Manvelyan, a journalist at epress.am. While members have not been implicated in any physical attacks, they are attempting to create an “atmosphere of fear” and play into violent tendencies in Armenia’s political culture, he said. “Real people are under attack.”
Connections to the old regime?
In his speech about the group, Pashinyan suggested members were secret shock troops of the former government. “After one year of attempts and activities these forces finally understood that they are irreversibly marginalized, and lately faced with the prospect of not receiving any political support, certain circles decided to carry out promotion of political legitimization of violence in Armenia,” the prime minister said. “In this context an organized campaign is being carried out, the main message being that they are preparing to solve political issues through violence.”
Although a connection to the former authorities has not been openly established, it is widely believed in pro-government circles. Others allege ties to Russia, as well.
“Even if there is no personal or financial connection to the previous regime, these guys’ messages have been completely in line with what Republicans have been saying and doing since at least 2017, when I first noticed their activity on social media,” Mikayel Zolyan, a former political analyst and now member of parliament in Pashinyan’s “My Step” alliance, told Eurasianet. (The Republican Party was the ruling party until Pashinyan unseated it last year.) “And now what they say or do seems coordinated with other former regime figures and media.”
In an interview with Eurasianet, Adekvad’s Danielyan brushed off accusations of funding or direction from Russia or the former government. He said the group solicits donations via deposits to its bank account and doesn’t ask who is contributing. “It’s possible that some Russian agents have sent money, or even Serzh Sargsyan,” he said, referring to Pashinyan’s predecessor as leader of Armenia.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
Ani Mejlumyan is a reporter based in Yerevan.