Opposition Supporters Prosecuted
YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—The Armenian opposition will not end or suspend its month-long street protests despite failing so far to oust Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, one of its leaders said on Thursday.
Ishkhan Saghatelyan, the main speaker at the anti-government protests, insisted that they are not dying down and are on the contrary gaining momentum.
Armenia’s main opposition groups represented in the parliament have rallied thousands of supporters on a virtually daily basis since setting up a tent camp in a central Yerevan square on May 1. They accuse Pashinyan of renouncing Armenian control of Nagorno-Karabakh and making other concessions to Azerbaijan that will jeopardize the very existence of Armenia.
Pashinyan and his political allies dismiss the demands for his resignation. They say that the opposition has failed to attract popular support for its “civil disobedience” campaign.
“The main question preoccupying our fellow citizens is how we are going to achieve regime change,” Saghatelyan told reporters. “There is only way to achieve this … The disobedience actions, the protests must reach a scale that will make it impossible for the current authorities to cling to power through the use of brute police force.”
“It’s now time to increase the number of tents,” he said. “A deep disappointment awaits all those who have prepared texts to play the blame game in case the movement doesn’t succeed.”
As part of their campaign, the opposition Hayastan and Pativ Unem blocs drafted last week a parliamentary resolution rejecting any peace accord that would restore Azerbaijan’s control over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament has made clear that it will boycott and thus thwart an emergency debate on the draft resolution slated for Friday afternoon. It has accused the opposition of exploiting the Karabakh conflict for political purposes.
Saghatelyan said that he and other opposition lawmakers will go to the National Assembly on Friday despite the announced boycott.
In a Facebook post, Saghatelyan urged opposition supporters to gather at Yerevan’s France Square, the site of the protest camp, in time for the scheduled parliament session. He said the protest leaders “will decide our next actions depending on processes that will take place in the parliament.”
“Dear compatriots, this is a battle of nerves,” he wrote. “We are now obliged to stay strong and continue the process of dismantling these authorities.”
More Armenian Opposition Supporters Prosecuted
Law-enforcement authorities are pressing criminal charges against eight more participants of anti-government rallies organized by the Armenian opposition for the past month.
They were among more than a hundred protesters detained on Monday while clashing with riot police outside a government building in Yerevan.
The clashes broke out after the police did not allow opposition lawmakers leading hundreds of supporters to enter the building to raise their concerns with government ministries.
Several protesters claimed to have been beaten up by police officers after being dragged away and forced into the sprawling building. No policeman has been prosecuted or suspended in connection with that.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee has indicted instead the eight men, who have not been released from custody unlike the other detainees. They are accused of assaulting police officers and refusing to obey their orders.
The arrested suspects include a nephew of former President Serzh Sarkisian and a son of Surik Khachatryan, a fugitive former governor of Syunik province. They both deny any wrongdoing.
Opposition leaders likewise reject as politically motivated charges leveled against these and more than a dozen other supporters arrested since the start on May 1 of the daily street protests in Yerevan aimed forcing Pashinyan to resign.
The opposition as well as the country’s human rights ombudswoman, Kristine Grigoryan, and some civic activists have accused the police of using disproportionate force against protesters throughout the month-long demonstrations.
Grigoryan said on Thursday that her office documented several cases of police brutality during Monday’s clashes and petitioned the leadership of the national police service to take appropriate action.
The police claim to have launched internal inquiries into some officers. None of them has been prosecuted so far.
Justice Minister Karen Andreasyan insisted that this fact does not testify to a cover-up of unlawful police actions. He argued that internal police inquiries typically last for months.
Andreasyan also claimed that barring “several unacceptable incidents” security forces’ handling of the continuing anti-government protests has been “brilliant and professional.”
The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Lynne Tracy, assured reporters on May 20 that the Armenian government is “taking heed of the need to investigate” the disproportionate use of force against protesters. She said the protests should be peaceful and not create “chaos” in the streets.