By Emil Danielyan
The United States has advised its citizens to stay away from opposition rallies that are expected to take place in Yerevan ahead of Sunday’s constitutional referendum, saying that they might be marred by violence.
“The size and mood of the rallies is unpredictable, so the U.S. Embassy urges American citizens to avoid the following locations during the rallies,” reads an embassy warden message sent to Americans residing in Armenia. “Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.”
The message, which reveals U.S. concerns about an upsurge in political tensions in Armenia, lists the time and venue of at least two opposition rallies scheduled for Thursday and Friday. “Please also note that the rallies may affect traffic patterns in the surrounding areas,” it says.
Thursday’s rally, organized by a coalition of opposition parties campaigning against constitutional amendments put to the referendum, will take place in Yerevan’s Malatia-Sebastia. Raffi Hovannisian, a former U.S. citizen and foreign minister, plans to rally supporters at the city’s central Freedom Square the next day. The main opposition demonstrations are due to start on Sunday.
“Citizens should be alert to the possibility of additional rallies that may be scheduled over the weekend,” the U.S. embassy said.
Opposition rallies in Armenia have generally been peaceful. Still, the authorities used force to disperse one such protest staged outside President Robert Kocharian’s residence on the night from April 12-13, 2004. Another unsanctioned gathering held one week earlier nearly turned violent after a group of well-built men tried to disrupt it by throwing eggs at opposition speakers. They then attacked photojournalists present at the scene, smashing most of their video and still cameras. Police refused to intervene in the ugly incident.