By Ruben Meloyan
Police tried to stop groups of young people publicizing the Armenian opposition’s upcoming rally in Yerevan for the second consecutive day on Wednesday, ignoring criticism from the country’s human rights ombudsman.
The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) assigned its young activists to march through the city center and urge citizens to attend the demonstration scheduled for Friday.
About 30 of them were forcibly dispersed by riot police late on Tuesday despite keeping to the sidewalks and not interfering with street traffic. Colonel Robert Melkonian, chief of the Patrol Service of the Armenian police present at the scene, told organizers that the march is illegal because its participants are chanting slogans that “discredit the state.”
“At first our negotiations with the police were normal in the sense that they were simply forbidding us from taking any actions,” one of the organizers, Vladimir Karapetian, told RFE/RL after the scuffle. “But then they called in a special police unit that rudely jostled and dispersed us.”
The human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, was quick to send his representatives to the scene. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Harutiunian’s office criticized the police and urged law-enforcement bodies to “act in accordance with the constitution and laws.” Under one of those laws, public gatherings attended by less than 100 persons do not have to be sanctioned by municipal authorities.
A similar incident occurred later on Wednesday when the police confronted another group of HAK supporters silently marching elsewhere in downtown Yerevan. Armen Hambartsumian, an organizer of the action, said police officers allowed the activists to continue the march after they promised not to chant any slogans. He said they also demanded that the marchers take off T-shirts with pictures of imprisoned opposition members emblazoned on them. “The police behaved better today,” Hambartsumian told RFE/RL.
Hambarstumian was briefly detained just hours later as the police attempted to disperse more than 100 opposition supporters gathering in Yerevan’s Northern Avenue on a daily basis. The standoff was still not over as of 9 p.m. local time.
The HAK said last week that Friday’s rally, sanctioned by the authorities, will mark a “turning out” in the opposition’s year-long struggle against the government. The alliance said its top leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, will unveil his new political strategy and make “very important revelations” in his speech.
(Photolur photo: Robert Melkonian.)