Up to 300 supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian had gathered on a section of Northern Avenue on a daily basis ever since the lifting of a three-week state of emergency imposed following last year’s post-election unrest in the Armenian capital. Police tried unsuccessfully in March and April 2008 to end what the Armenian opposition calls “political strolls” with random detentions of their participants.
Their latest crackdown began a week ago. Scores of police officers has since guarded all approaches to the pedestrian area, dispersing people standing there and turning away many others. Some opposition activists were chased hundreds of meters away from the area.
Police block Yerevans Northern Avenue on April 14, 2009.
“Don’t stand here,” a police officer told a group of Ter-Petrosian supporters trying to enter Northern Avenue on Tuesday evening. “I’m telling you. All of you must walk away. Nobody shall stand here.”
“Because a lot of people gather here and start disrupting public order,” he said, responding to their protests. When asked how they do that, the officer replied: “They start chanting.”
“They know the people who come and don’t come here every day,” one female protester told RFE/RL. “So we Armenians are divided into two groups, right? Some are allowed to walk down this avenue, while others aren’t.”
“They told me to get our of here,” said another middle-aged woman. “Why? Why am I not allowed to walk freely in my city?”
The police said last week that they are acting on complaints lodged by owners of several nearby shops and restaurants. The latter claimed that opposition protesters scare away their customers by chanting anti-government slogans and singing songs.
Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) has dismissed these claims and condemned the police actions as illegal. In a weekend open letter, the HAK urged Yerevan Mayor Gagik Beglarian to protect citizens’ “elementary right to stroll and move freely there.” Beglarian did not respond to the call as of late Tuesday.