(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A controversial monument to an Armenian nationalist who led a military unit which served under Nazi command in World War II that was recently erected in the Armenian capital of Yerevan has drawn criticism in recent days.
The statue is of Garegin Ter-Harutyunyan, better known by his nom de guerre Garegin Nzhdeh, an Armenian nationalist who sought independence first from the Ottoman Empire and then from Soviet domination.
During WWII however, Nzhdeh (1886– 1955) collaborated with the Nazis and put the Armenian Legion, numbering some 30,000 men, at the disposal of the Nazi command.
The Armenian Legion operated both in the Crimean peninsula and in the Caucasus region fighting against the Soviet Red Army, while a detachment also fought in southern France against the Allied forces.
Last month, a statue of Nzhdeh was unveiled in a central square of Yerevan.
According to the Azerbaijan Press Agency, Deputy Speaker of Armenian Parliament Eduard Sharmazanov described Nzhdeh as “a national hero,” a “patriot” who struggled for Armenian independence.
Russian Foreign Ministry official Maria Zakharova said last week following the unveiling of the monument that “Everyone knows about Russia’s negative attitude toward manifestations of neo-Nazism and glorification of criminals, and this attitude is unchangeable,” the APA reported. “It is not clear to us why that monument was erected.”
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Nazi-hunter and Holocaust scholar Dr. Efraim Zuroff told The Jerusalem Post that Nzhdeh had indeed collaborated with the Nazis as one of the commanders of the Armenian Legion in Crimea and the Caucasus.
He said that it was unclear if the Armenian Legion participated in any atrocities during the Holocaust but said that Nzhdeh and his military unit should be condemned for fighting with the Nazis.
“The fact that they built the statue is quite outrageous,” said Zuroff. “We must object to any glorification of individuals who fought with the Nazis or extended any assistance to the forces of the Third Reich.”
Zuroff said that there is a problematic phenomenon in Eastern Europe at the moment in which history is being rewritten to minimize local collaboration with the Nazis.
He added that there is also an attempt to equate the evils of both the Nazi and Soviet regimes in order to justify the collaboration that took place in Eastern European states with the Nazis, and which is presented as national movements against Soviet control.
“This is therefore an unfortunate mistake and is an insult to the victims of the Nazis and all those who fought against the Nazis,” said Zuroff.
An avenue, a large square and a nearby metro station in Yerevan are named after Nzhdeh. A village in Armenia’s southern Syunik province is also named after him.
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