By Emil Danielyan
An influential Western think-tank expressed concern late Wednesday about a reported brief detention of its two analysts who have monitored the constitutional referendum and ensued political developments in Armenia.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a statement that analyst Levon Zurabian and his Tbilisi-based colleague Giorgi Gogia were detained by plainclothes police for questioning shortly after attending an opposition rally in Yerevan late on Tuesday. The statement said the two men were unexpectedly told that their detention was a “mistake” once they reached the police headquarters in central Yerevan. “The police apologized,” it added.
“Crisis Group is concerned that the analysts were detained as part of an attempt by police to intimidate persons attending post-referendum rallies sponsored by the opposition,” said the Brussels-based institution specializing in conflict resolution and democratization around the world. “Messrs. Zurabian and Gogia were present at the demonstrations, observing them in the context of their Crisis Group duties.
“Crisis Group calls on the appropriate Armenian authorities to investigate the incident.”
Zurabian had served as the press secretary of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and is critical of the current Armenian leadership.
The Tbilisi-based director of the ICG’s Caucasus Project, Sabine Freizer, strongly criticized the Armenian authorities’ handling of Sunday’s referendum in an article that appeared on Opendemocracy.net this week. “The referendum was an opportunity for the country to show that it is ready to take a step forward towards becoming a democracy based on the rule of law,” she wrote. “All the evidence so far is that Armenia has failed to take that step.”
Freizer also criticized the West for its failure to deploy a large-scale mission to observe the referendum, suggesting that “the international community lacked interest in measuring the integrity of the process.” “It must react to the evidence of fraud, and – particularly if there is a violent police crackdown on opposition demonstrators – consider imposing penalties on Armenia’s government,” she said.
“The greatest losers of all may be Armenia's citizens: indifferent to electoral processes that do not reflect their will, deprived of their belief in their ability to effect change, their trust in the power of western-sponsored democracy itself may be eroding,” concluded Freizer.