Thursday, July 31, 2008

In Memoriam: Arkady Manucharov

This was originally published in January 19, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Early leader of Karabakh’s liberation movement passed away at 76
Known for his integrity and indefatigable spirit, but also at times controversial positions, former Karabakh Armenian leader Arkady Manucharov died on January 7 in Moscow, where he made his home for most of the last decade and a half.

Born in Karabakh in 1931, Mr. Manucharov was trained as an engineer in Moscow in the 1950s and upon graduation he returned to work in Karabakh’s construction sector. He excelled in that field earning a number of state medals and awards and official credits for 30 inventions.

Mr. Manucharov first came to prominence in 1965. In the year that also saw first-ever April 24 popular protests in Yerevan, the young engineer joined 12 other activists led by historian Bagrat Ulubabian to organize a petition by some 45,000 Karabakh Armenians requesting that the Soviet government reunite Karabakh with Armenia.

The resulting government crackdown saw Mr. Manucharov, among others, expelled from Karabakh. He went on to participate in the rebuilding of Uzbekistan’s capital of Tashkent following a devastating earthquake in 1966 and worked elsewhere in USSR.

Mr. Manucharov was finally able to return to Karabakh in 1977, becoming the director of the Stepanakert construction materials plant. It was no surprise then that as the movement for Karabakh’s freedom re-ignited in February 1988, Mr. Manucharov took the helm of the Krunk Committee established to advance the cause of re-unification. Its thirteen founding members included the current Armenian President Robert Kocharian.

Later in 1988, Mr. Manucharov secretly met with the then Soviet Azerbaijani leader Abdurrahman Vezirov to negotiate a higher status for Karabakh. That meeting – the first between de facto Karabakh Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders – was not coordinated with other Karabakh activists, who, when they learned of it, began to treat Mr. Manucharov with suspicion, resulting in lasting damage to his status as Karabakh’s leader.

Years later, in an interview with British journalist Tom de Waal an Azerbaijani official involved in the conflict took credit for splitting Karabakh’s leadership. In his book on Karabakh, de Waal quotes Seiran Mirzoyev as saying in April 2000 that “we did everything to split the separatists,” including by spreading rumors and false allegations about Mr. Manucharov.

In the end, failing to co-opt Karabakh leaders, Soviet officials gave a free rein to mobs that attacked Armenians in Azerbaijan and stood by as the entire community of more than 300,000 was expelled. Arrests of activists began in Stepanakert and Yerevan, with Mr. Manucharov one of the main targets.

The first attempt to detain Mr. Manucharov late one night in mid-November 1988 failed as his neighbors confronted the Soviet security forces that arrived in five armored vehicles. Ensuing fracas left seven civilians and one security forces member injured. But two weeks later, in Yerevan, Mr. Manucharov was lured into a meeting at the Interior Ministry building only to be arrested and transported to Azerbaijan.

For months Mr. Manucharov was tortured in the notorious Shusha prison, with the town then under Azerbaijani control, and his family threatened with reprisals and harassed. Under pressure from human rights activists from around the world he was transferred to a prison in Moscow.

Recognized as “prisoner of conscience” by the Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch (now known as the Human Rights Watch), Mr. Manucharov became a cause celebrity for activists fighting for democracy in the Soviet Union and was subject of appeals by, among others, then Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Sen. Claiborne Pell (D.-R.I.) and Rep. Charles Pashayan, Jr. (R.- Calif.).

Encouraged by Russian pro-democracy leaders Andrey Sakharov and Galina Starovoytova, St. Petersburg lawyer Yuri Schmidt, who rose to prominence in recent years as the legal defender for businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, at the time provided counsel to Mr. Manucharov.

In August 1989, while in prison pending trial, Mr. Manucharov was also selected as an honorary member of Artsakh’s National Council– a public organization set up to defend Karabakh Armenian interests as Moscow and Baku moved to disband Karabakh’s local government structures. That same month Mr. Manucharov was elected to the Supreme Council of Soviet Armenia from the town of Charentsavan; he was re-elected on May 20, 1990.

Days later, on May 29, 1990, after eighteen months in pre-trial imprisonment, Mr. Manucharov, then 59, was finally freed. With his health marred but spirit intact, he told Moscow-based daily at the time: “I do not link my release to the Soviet rulers’ goodwill. They just had no other choice.”

Soon after, Mr. Manucharov returned to Nagorno Karabakh and was elected to NKR’s first parliament at the end of 1991. At the time, Mr. Manucharov reportedly fell out with other Armenian leaders just as he advocated for Karabakh’s union with Russia.

Although living in Moscow for more than a decade, Mr. Manucharov would continue to visit Karabakh and was decorated with NKR’s Order of Mesrob Mashtots – the highest civilian award – for his contribution to the Karabakh cause.

In a message of condolences, NKR President Bako Sahakian noted that Mr. Manucharov was expected to be in Stepanakert to take part in the events marking the 20th anniversary of the Karabakh movement next month.

Prepared by Emil Sanamyan. Armenian Reporter correspondent Tatul Hakobian, who recently finished a book on the Karabakh conflict, contributed to this story.

No comments: