By Emil Danielyan
A tiny monument placed in downtown Yerevan in memory of the Jewish Holocaust victims was found overturned on Friday less than five months after being defaced by unknown vandals.
Its apparent desecration is the latest in a spate of anti-Semitic acts that increasingly alarm Armenia’s small Jewish community. Its leaders said they immediately informed the police about the incident and were assured that it will be thoroughly investigated.
The rectangular granite stone of the Holocaust memorial still lay on the snow-covered ground of a public park in the city center as of late afternoon. An official from Yerevan’s central administrative district was inspecting the scene but declined to be interviewed, saying only that the local government was informed about the incident a short while ago.
Employees of a nearby cafe who look after the park were surprised to hear the news from RFE/RL correspondents. They said the monument was already toppled as recently as on Thursday.
“The previous such incident was registered yesterday in the evening,” said the café manager, Ghukas Harutiunian. “We found the stone toppled and immediately put it back in the upright position only to learn from you that it has again been torn down.”
Harutiunian added that this is the “sixth or seventh” act of vandalism since the memorial was placed in the park in late 2003. He said the Armenian Jews are unaware of most of those incidents.
“We just didn’t want to upset them,” explained another café employee who personally wiped the Holocaust stone clean after somebody painted a cross and the “satanic” number 666 on it last September.
Meanwhile, the top leader of the Jewish community, Rimma Varzhapetian, told RFE/RL that the police inspected the scene earlier in the day and were quick to tentatively conclude that the memorial stone fell over without human interference. She said police officers argued that they found no footprints in the snow around the memorial.
“According to their preliminary conclusion, it resulted from some defects on the foundation and reinforcement bars holding the stone,” Varzhapetian said.
But Harutiunian, the café manager, ruled out such possibility, saying that the metal buttresses were firm enough to keep the stone upright. “There is no way it could fall down on its own,” he said, adding that the police have not questioned any of his workers taking care of the park.
Varzhapetian was likewise skeptical about the official theory. “As an engineer by training, I have a different opinion and can only say that, thank God, there were no earthquakes in Armenia last night,” she said. “Nor did I find any traces of metal corrosion. It must have taken a physical impact to cause the stone to fall.”
“Nonetheless, we would like to believe that it was not an act of vandalism,” she added.
The Holocaust memorial was previously located in another park in central Yerevan. The Jewish community leaders say they had to relocate the monument in the summer of 2003 after the city authorities gave the small plot of land occupied by it to a businessman who built a restaurant in its place.
The community, which numbers less than a thousand members, is increasingly concerned about various manifestations of anti-Semitism in Armenia. The problem, virtually non-existent in the past, has come to the surface over the past year, with anti-Semitic propaganda methodically aired by a local television station and even more inflammatory comments made by an Armenian ultranationalist group.
Its controversial leader, Armen Avetisian, was arrested and charged with stirring up ethnic intolerance late last month after openly calling for the deportation of all Armenian Jews. His party, called the Armenian Aryan Union, denounced the move and declared its leader a political prisoner.
Avetisian is being kept under pre-trial arrest despite calls for his release voiced by Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Larisa Alaverdian, and several mainstream opposition politicians. State prosecutors rejected their arguments that he could be set free and still face trial.
“Hayastani Hanrapetutyun,” a government-funded daily, wrote on Friday that Avetisian’s prosecution is necessary for “nipping evil in the bud.”