By Ruben Meloyan
The Armenian opposition accused the authorities on Thursday of orchestrating the previous day’s assault on its supporters gathering in downtown Yerevan on a daily basis.
The incident occurred on Wednesday evening on the city’s Northern Avenue, the scene of “political strolls” of 100 or so supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. Eyewitnesses said several dozen beefy men attacked and beat many of the mostly female protesters after shouting abuse directed at Ter-Petrosian. Two elderly women suffered serious injuries and were taken to a nearby hospital.
“I was sitting on a sidewalk curb and reading a newspaper when a group of men attacked the people,” one of them, Rimma Khachatrian, told RFE/RL. “I wanted to stand up but one guy hit me, saying ‘Sit down, you old whore.’ Another kicked me in the leg and hand and I fell over.”
“They trampled me underfoot. What for?” she said.
“They said they are going to crack Levon’s head,” one man said of the attackers. He and other witnesses claimed that the police stepped in and dragged away the attackers only several minutes after the start of the violence.
But Lieutenant-Colonel Valeri Osipian, deputy chief of the police Patrol Service who personally watches the daily gatherings on the street leading to Yerevan’s Liberty Square, denied that he and his men stood by and watched as the ugly scene unfolded. “Had it not been for the police, something terrible would have happened here,” he told RFE/RL. “It’s just that there were few of us here.”
“We don’t know what exactly happened,” said Osipian. “At first it looked as though everything happened amongst [the opposition supporters.]” He added that the police were “physically unable” to detain any of the assailants because only “four or five” officers were on hand to stop the violence.
However, photographs of the incident published by several newspapers show that there were more policemen at the scene. Among them were members of a special police unit. The so-called “red berets” are normally not deployed on Northern Avenue.
The police said no criminal case has been opened in connection with the incident as of Thursday afternoon because they have not received any written reports about it. Still, a spokesman for Armenia’s Police Service confirmed that opposition representatives sent on Wednesday night a letter detailing their version of events to Artur Mehrabian, chief of the police department of Yerevan’s central administrative district.
Levon Zurabian, a leading member of Ter-Petrosian’s Popular Movement, publicized on Thursday what he described as the license plate numbers of several cars that transported the attackers to and from the scene. He said the opposition alliance also provided the police with amateur video of the violence.
“The police must quickly solve this case,” Zurabian told a news conference. “Or else, they will effectively acknowledge that all this was organized by the authorities.”
“I am sure the police won’t solve this case,” he said, accusing the authorities of “trying to undermine our peaceful actions by means of provocateurs.”
Citing witness accounts, newspapers claimed that some of the men who tried to disrupt the opposition protest on Northern Avenue were bodyguards of Gagik Beglarian and Mher Sedrakian, the mayors of Yerevan’s Kentron and Erebuni districts respectively. Both men affiliated with the governing Republican Party of Armenia have repeatedly been branded as crime figures by the opposition.
“I swear by my children that my boys had nothing to do with that,” Sedrakian told the “Aravot” daily. He at the same time said that “both parties to that fight” were residents of Erebuni and that he will personally locate and “punish” them.
Beglarian visited Northern Avenue on Thursday evening and assured the opposition supporters standing there that he too had no hand in the violence.
Groups of Ter-Petrosian supporters have been assembling on the pedestrian boulevard ever since the end of a 20-day state of emergency imposed in Yerevan following the March 1 clashes between security forces and opposition protesters. The police tried unsuccessfully to end the daily gatherings with mass detentions of their participants in late March and early April.
Scores of police officers remain on standby there to keep the small crowd from moving into the adjacent Liberty Square, the scene of Ter-Petrosian’s massive demonstrations against official results of last February’s disputed presidential election.
Ter-Petrosian is due to again rally thousands of supporters elsewhere in the city center on Friday. His aides have said the rally will go ahead despite not being authorized by the authorities.