By Ruzanna Stepanian
An Armenian opposition leader who has promised to try to bring down the government this year was forced out of his car and saw his six bodyguards arrested by secret police agents without an immediate explanation on Friday.
Aram Karapetian, the outspoken leader of the Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party, told RFE/RL that his and his bodyguards’ cars were abruptly stopped and surrounded by over a dozen masked armed with assault rifles. He said they refused to identify themselves, attacking and handcuffing everyone except himself.
“I asked one of them, ‘Who are you?’ He said, ‘Shut up,’” said Karapetian. “I was told to get out of the car, which I did, and then they drove the guys and the cars away in an unknown direction. I called a taxi and went to my office.”
All detained men were released several hours later. Four of them, according to Karapetian, sustained serious injuries. “That was the work of a special squad of the National Security Service which carried out [NSS chief] Gorik Hakobian’s orders to terrorize me,” he claimed.
The NSS essentially confirmed the extraordinary action in a statement issued to RFE/RL later in the day. It said the six men protecting Karapetian, whom the Armenian successor to the Soviet KGB sarcastically described as a “newly bred revolutionary,” were detained on suspicion of illegal arms possession.
But Karapetian dismissed the explanation, saying that his men have a legal permission to carry gas pistols and that the NSS is well aware of that. He charged that the ex-KGB resorted to “political banditism” in retaliation for Nor Zhamanakner allegations that it is illegally suppressing opposition activities in Armenia. He also attributed the arrests to the party’s plans to hold a rally outside the NSS building in Yerevan on April 28 and to expose 14 undercover NSS “agents” allegedly operating within its ranks. Their names will be made public soon, he said.
The incident came just over two weeks after Karapetian announced plans to launch a nationwide campaign of anti-government demonstrations aimed at forcing President Robert Kocharian to resign. The Nor Zhamanakner leader, who is believed to have political sponsors in Russia, specifically pledged to repeat the Armenian opposition’s ill-fated 2004 attempt to block a major street leading to Kocharian’s Yerevan residence. He said he will do that even if he is not backed by the country’s mainstream opposition groups that seem increasingly suspicious of his reputed Russian connections.