Violent Police Clashes with Protesters Heighten Tensions in Yerevan

Protesters are dispersed by riot police in Yerevan's Sari Tagh neighborhood
Protesters are dispersed by riot police in Yerevan's Sari Tagh neighborhood

Protesters are dispersed by riot police in Yerevan’s Sari Tagh neighborhood

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Riot police clashed late on Friday with hundreds of people near a police compound in Yerevan occupied by gunmen affiliated with an Armenian opposition group.

The violence, which left three RFE/RL journalists injured, unfolded amid the sound of gunshots and explosions coming from the compound located in the city’s southern Erebuni district. It was not immediately clear whether security forces were conducting a large-scale operation there.

The protesters sympathetic to the gunmen unexpectedly tried to approach the building from the nearby Sari Tagh neighborhood overlooking it. Some of them threw stones when they were confronted by rows of riot police, who briefly fired stun grenades in response.

The chief of Yerevan’s police department, Ashot Karapetian, and other senior law-enforcement officers warned two protest leaders — Amen Martirosian and Levon Barseghian — to lead the crowd back to the city center.

“Armen, you can’t control them,” said Karapetian. “They threw stones. Some policemen were injured. Tell the people to go back to where you held rallies [until now.]”

Martirosian said the stones were thrown by “provocateurs” and assured the officers that the crowd does not intend to break through the police cordon and enter the police compound.

The officers dismissed the assurances. They said that the rally is illegal and that gunshots fired around the compound are too dangerous for its participants.

About 10 minutes later, the police charged at the protesters, firing tear gas and throwing stun and flash grenades.

Some protesters as well as three RFE/RL journalists — Karlen Aslanian, Hovannes Movsisian and Garik Harutiunian — were attacked and beaten up by a large group of plainclothes men armed with sticks and metal bars as they retreated towards downtown Yerevan. The men, who appeared to be police officers, were clearly aware that they are assaulting reporters.

“Are you filming?” one of them said before punching Movsisian, smashing his camera and tearing off his ID badge.

“I told them that I stopped filming but they kept hitting me,” Movsisian said by phone as he ran for safety and took cover in a local shop shortly before midnight.

“They are chasing us and trying to arrest everyone in sight,” he said, adding that he witnessed dozens of protesters injured and detained at the scene.

The two other RFE/RL reporters were also injured before fleeing to safety through another Sari Tagh street.

At about the same time the police also dispersed a smaller crowd that gathered on a section of Khorenatsi Street leading to the seized police building. The street section has been the scene of virtually daily rallies held in support of the gunmen.

The police used force moments after a senior officer told 200 or so people standing there that their gathering is illegal. Dozens of protesters were subsequently detained.

One young man had blood all over his face as he was dragged away by several officers. The latter claimed that he fell to the ground and injured himself before being caught.

The police did not attack journalists or obstruct their work in that area.

Another RFE/RL correspondent saw seven people rushed to the Erebuni Medical Center, the nearest hospital, more than an hour after the outbreak of the violence. Four of them were injured policemen. It was not immediately clear who the three others were.

At least 20 injured protesters were taken to another Yerevan hospital, Surb Grigor Lusavorich. A senior doctor there told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that most of them suffered burns apparently caused by the police flashbangs. Two of them are in a serious condition, he said.

Meanwhile, the Armenian police spokesman, Ashot Aharonian, defended the use of force at Sari Tagh. He claimed that the protesters tried to join the besieged gunmen from that neighborhood.

The official promised that the police will “immediately” investigate violent attacks on journalists from RFE/RL and other media outlets that covered the dramatic events.

“A police serviceman suffered a gunshot wound outside the [Erebuni] police compound and was transferred to hospital,” Aharonian wrote on Facebook at midnight. He did not clarify whether the officer was shot by the gunmen.

In an earlier Facebook post, Aharonian insisted that security forces are “not conducting any operation” against the armed oppositionists.

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7 Comments

  1. MGL said:

    What a dishonorable citation in this little country which is in blockade and in war, having weak economy and loosing population to other countries!

  2. Hay said:

    Why did ARF.eacen join the government of serje Saekisyan ? Was it that important to be in a governing team ?
    I don’t know what ARF gained from this but it is very apparent to all that what it can loose . And that is the hearts and minds of Armenian people …
    What is going on there is pure madness …
    I blame all sides , but one thing is apparent the one that deserves the biggest share of it is the current criminal regime around es and soon weed by so called aligarxes that are noting but most classical criminals . ARF blunders on this big time . The criminal government needed to share the blame and responsibility and ARF lend itself to be used .

  3. State of Emergency said:

    And we think we’re always better and above the rest of the world.

  4. daniel said:

    Everybody knows that police in civilian clothes in conjunction with toxmax mher s men beat up journalist and peolpe.
    If they even import gang elements from los angelos dont be surprised.

  5. Hrair Yousefian said:

    I read the news everyday from Asbarez with deep anxiety about the future of our little country.
    It is a shame to fight and kill each other in Armenia, we are ancient civilized people, we gave lots of blood for our independence for centuries, now we are killing each other placing our country in a very dangerous position.
    The whole world including Turkey and Azerbaijan are watching us with joy.
    STOP THIS AND TRY TO TALK.

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