By Karine Kalantarian
One of Armenia’s most renowned writers returned on Tuesday a prestigious state award given to her by President Robert Kocharian in 1998, in protest against his government’s controversial crackdown on the opposition.
Poetess Silva Kaputikian sent back her Medal of Mesrop Mashtots to the presidential administration through two representatives. Kaputikian, 85, confirmed that the decision resulted from the brutal dispersal of an opposition demonstration in Yerevan on the night from April 12-13.
“It was a very difficult decision for me to take,” she said. “I keep wondering why the situation in our independent republic should be such that I have to return the medal carrying the name of Mesrop Mashtots.”
Scores of people were injured and arrested on that night when baton-wielding riot police used water cannons and stun grenades to break up the protest on the city’s Marshal Baghramian avenue leading to the Kocharian’s residence. The use of force was part of a broader crackdown launched by the authorities in response to the opposition campaign for Kocharian’s resignation.
It has involved arrests and imprisonments of opposition activists across the country and has been denounced by local and international human rights groups. Kaputikian likewise referred to the drastic measures as “repressions.” However, the authorities defend them, accusing the opposition of resorting to “unconstitutional” methods of political struggle.
Speaking last May, Kocharian deplored the writer’s gesture of protest, saying that his reaction would have been “tougher” if she had not been so famous and respected in Armenia. Some prominent pro-Kocharian intellectuals have also criticized her.
But Kaputikian defended her decision. “I will take comfort from the fact that it is not with a medal that I will feel attached to Mesrop Mashtots,” she said, referring to the 5th century cleric who invented the Armenian alphabet. “On the contrary, I believe that I stayed faithful to Mesrop Mashtots with this step.”