By Ruzanna Stepanian and Karine Kalantarian
Opposition leaders allied to former President Levon Ter-Petrosian on Friday stood by their allegations that Thursday’s severe beating of one of their youth activists was the work of the Armenian authorities and police in particular.
President Robert Kocharian dismissed the allegations and ruled out any political motives behind the beating.
Narek Galstian, the 20-year-old leader of the youth wing of a Diaspora-linked pro-Ter-Petrosian party, was hospitalized with serious injuries after being assaulted by unknown individuals in the northern outskirts of Yerevan. The attack two place two days after Galstian and another young activist of the Social Democrat Hnchakian Party (SDHK) were detained by police while posting anti-government leaflets in the city center.
“Haykakan Zhamanak,” a daily newspaper staunchly supportive of Ter-Petrosian, wrote on Friday that the chief of the Yerevan police, Major General Nerses Nazarian, personally hit and bullied the two men at a police station in the capital. The claim was echoed by Lyudmila Sargsian, the SDHK chairwoman, and Ter-Petrosian.
Speaking at a rally in Yerevan later in the day, Ter-Petrosian demanded Nazarian’s immediate sacking. He said failure to fire him would mean that Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian were “behind the beating.”
Galstian has not publicly claimed to have been ill-treated in police custody, saying only that police officers only told him to stop disseminating leaflets slamming Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. He says he was also warned against publicizing the very fact of his detention.
“We did not want to name these names,” Sargsian told a news conference. “But remaining silent about that would now be a crime.”
“The fact that a police general does not shy away from beating 19- and 20-year-old young men and even trying to stuff a leaflet into their mouths and force them to eat it … shows that this is a police state,” she said.
The SDHK leader again alleged that Galstian’s beating was ordered by the government. “Nowadays police will not take any action without orders from above,” she said. “I link [the beating] to the highest echelons of power.” “They thereby tried to scare the youth,” she added.
Similar allegations have been made by other influential opposition forces not aligned with Ter-Petrosian. Parliament deputies from the opposition Zharangutyun party on Thursday demonstratively walked out of a parliament session in protest against what they described as an “act of political terror.” “This act of terror is a direct continuation of other repressions against political figures in Armenia and vivid proof of the fact that violence against political opponents is an integral part of the Armenian authorities’ work style,” Zharangutyun said in a statement.
Kocharian, however, asserted that the authorities had no hand in Thursday’s assault because Galstian is too young and little-known to pose a threat to his and Sarkisian’s rule. “As always, whatever happens to anyone in the run-up to elections is linked with politics,” he told reporters after inaugurating a newly built boulevard in downtown Yerevan. “I personally never heard about that lad. I didn’t know that there is such a political figure.”
“I don’t think he was of interest to anyone [in government,]” added Kocharian.
The Armenian police, meanwhile, likewise denied any involved in Galstian’s beating which Ter-Petrosian allies say is part of broader “repressions” unleashed by the authorities against their supporters. They point, among other things, to the ongoing government crackdowns on a wealthy businessman close to Ter-Petrosian and a regional TV station that broke ranks to air a September 21 speech by the ex-president. The latter is expected to be Sarkisian’s main challenger in a presidential election scheduled for February 19.
(Phorolut photo: Nerses Nazarian.)