By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on Tuesday condemned last month’s ransacking of the offices of Armenia’s main opposition parties, describing the police raids as “illegal.”
Security officials burst into the Yerevan-based headquarters of the National Unity, Hanrapetutyun (Republic) and People’s parties moments after the harsh dispersal in the early hours of April 13 of an unsanctioned demonstration near President Robert Kocharian’s residence. They smashed doors, arrested dozens of party activists and confiscated party documents, computers and other office equipment. The National Unity and Hanrapetutyun offices were sealed off and reopened several days later.
“We have already condemned such phenomena which are illegal. And they have not been repeated since then,” Markarian told reporters. “According to my information, a criminal case has been opened against certain persons. The law-enforcement bodies will look into the matter.”
Markarian could not give details of the investigation. The opposition parties say the authorities have still not provided them with any formal explanations for the unprecedented raids despite their complaints lodged to Armenia’s Office of Prosecutor-General.
The police actions were part of a broader government crackdown on the opposition condemned by international human rights organizations such as the Council of Europe and Human Rights Watch. HRW’s May 4 report detailing “the cycle of repression” in Armenia has a separate section on the office ransacking. It quotes several female activists of Hanrapetutyun as saying that they were for hours beaten up and humiliated by senior police officers in Yerevan’s Erebuni district.
“[The chief of the Erebuni police] came up to me and said 'So you want to take power,' and slapped me three times very hard on the face,” one of the women told Human Rights Watch. She said the officer, Nver Hovannisian, then went to each person in turn and assaulted them, kicking and kneeing them, and punching one woman in the head.
While deploring the attack on the opposition premises, Markarian argued that the government response has been otherwise justified and the opposition bid to cause regime change unconstitutional. “You can’t say that when a criminal case is opened against a party or a politician it means a setback for democracy,” he said.
Markarian also claimed that Armenia is now a more democratic country than it was before last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, arguing that the authorities have not blocked most of the unsanctioned opposition demonstrations and tolerate newspapers highly critical of their policies. “Everyone writes freely and speaks freely,” he said.