By Astghik Bedevian
The Armenian police launched criminal proceedings on Tuesday against supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian who drove through the streets of Yerevan on Monday in a motorcade of more than a hundred cars led by the opposition presidential candidate.
The collective ride, not sanctioned by municipal authorities, lasted for more than an hour and ended in a rally in the city’s northern Avan suburb. It was aimed at drumming up popular support for Ter-Petrosian and possibly exerting psychological pressure on the government.
A statement by the police said that the motorcade disrupted traffic in the city center and that participants of the car parade defied orders by road police officers and threatened to use force against them. It said a criminal case has been opened under a corresponding article of the Armenian Criminal Code.
The police did not immediately charge any of the Ter-Petrosian campaigners. Instead, it reportedly impounded cars belonging to some of the ex-president’s close associates, including the chairmen of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement and the radical opposition Hanrapetutyun party.
Also, law-enforcement authorities announced late Monday the launch of a separate criminal investigation into a violent incident that marred Ter-Petrosian’s weekend campaign rally in the central town of Talin. Several Ter-Petrosian loyalists reportedly threw punches at a man who heckled the ex-president as the latter was about to address local residents. According to media reports, the man, identified as Sarkis Karapetian, was assaulted after telling Ter-Petrosian that “the people of Talin are not with you.”
The Office of the Prosecutor-General identified three alleged attackers of Karapetian, among them a local leader of Hanrapetutyun, but would not say if any of them have already been formally charged with assault.
Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign headquarters was quick to condemn both criminal cases. “These actions are aimed at stemming Levon Ter-Petrosian’s triumph in the presidential elections and taking the pre-election situation out of control,” it said in a statement. “We warn Armenia’s kleptocratic authorities that they will bear full responsibility for unpredictable consequences of these actions.”
The statement described the violent incident in Talin as a government “provocation.” It also claimed that the police have “effectively paralyzed” the Ter-Petrosian campaign in Talin by summoning its activists for questioning en masse.
Also reacting to the Talin incident were two nationalist activists controversially imprisoned by the Armenian authorities. Like Karapetian, Zhirayr Sefilian and Vartan Malkhasian are veterans of the 1992-1994 war in Karabakh. In a joint statement from their prison, they alleged that the attack victim is a government agent who had been paid by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian to spy on war veterans unhappy with Armenia’s leadership.
Sefilian and Malkhasian, who support Ter-Petrosian’s presidential bid, at the same time urged the ex-president’s loyalists to “beware such provocations and be more tolerant in the future.”
In a related development, the police also commented on reports that they forcibly closed Ter-Petrosian’s sole campaign office in the southeastern town of Kapan on Monday. The office head, Roman Navasardian, told RFE/RL that he and his comrades were forced out of the premises after their owner unexpectedly decided to terminate their lease.
A police statement said that law-enforcement officers in Kapan simply intervened in a bust-up between the owner, identified as “citizen A.,” and individuals who occupied his property “by fraudulent means.”
(Photolur photo: Ter-Petrosian's limousine leads the motorcade during the controversial action.)