By Emil Danielyan
State prosecutors were expected to consider on Monday requests from Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Larisa Alaverdian, and two opposition parliamentarians to release an ultranationalist politician prosecuted for his virulently anti-Semitic discourse.
Armen Avetisian, the leader of a small party called the Armenian Aryan Union, was arrested a week ago and is due to face trial on charges of inciting ethnic hatred. The arrest followed a newspaper interview in which he called for the expulsion of all Jews living in Armenia.
In an interview with the “Azg” daily published over the weekend, Alaverdian said the punishment was too harsh and she will ask Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian to release Avetisian from jail pending trial. “I don’t think that Mr. Avetisian is so dangerous that he would flee the city or hide from law-enforcement bodies in case of his release,” she said.
Similar petitions were filed on Friday by opposition deputies Victor Dallakian and Manuk Gasparian.
The authorities brought criminal charges against Avetisian amid growing concerns expressed by the leaders of Armenia’s tiny Jewish community about new manifestations of anti-Semitism in the country. They point, among other things, to continuing anti-Semitic propaganda aired by a private television channel and the desecration last September of a Holocaust memorial in Yerevan.
But Alaverdian insisted that the problem is not serious enough to require government action. “Anti-Semitism can have two forms. One is state policy, the other an established public opinion. Both are non-existent in Armenia,” she argued.
Alaverdian also criticized the U.S. State Department for mentioning Armenia in its recent report on anti-Semitism around the world. “An attempt is being made to attribute anti-Semitism to Armenian society or state policy,” she said. “I find it a serious mistake.”
The State Department report, which devoted only three brief paragraphs to Armenia, was also criticized by Hranush Kharatian, head of the Armenian government’s department on ethnic minorities and religious affairs.
Kharatian herself incurred the ire of Armenian Jews after claiming in a newspaper interview last October that “during their Friday gatherings Judaists continue to preach extreme intolerance toward all non-Judaists.”
(Photolur photo: Armen Avetisian.)