Nikol Pashinian, an arrested opposition leader and newspaper editor, on Monday sought to substantiate his belief that the Armenian authorities themselves provoked last year’s deadly unrest in Yerevan by rigging elections and persecuting scores of opposition supporters.
Pashinian presented what he believes are facts proving his view during his ongoing trial on charges of provoking vicious clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian in the wake of the February 2008 presidential election. Ten people died and more than 200 others were injured in the violence.
Pashinian listed, one by one, what he called the Armenian authorities’ plans to disperse and subject to provocations thousands of opposition protesters that barricaded themselves in the center of Yerevan on March 1, 2008.
“If the authorities really wanted to prevent clashes between police forces and people, they should not have attacked [the people] in the first place,” he said in a nearly three-hour testimony. “No other super-natural effort was required to avoid the clashes.”
Pashinian, 34, was one of the most popular and passionate speakers in the anti-government protests sparked by the dispute ballot. He took the center stage in the opposition campaign on March 1, 2008 and went into hiding after the authorities declared a state of emergency and began mass arrests of opposition members the following morning.
The editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” explained his passionate calls made during the unrest, saying that he urged fellow Ter-Petrosian supporters to build barricades because the authorities were keen to provoke the crowd to attack the presidential palace in Yerevan. He accused law-enforcement bodies of distorting and misrepresenting key events of that day.
Pashinian tried to disprove the accusation of resistance to “representatives of the state authority” that was also leveled against him. It stems from an October 2007 clash in Yerevan between police and a small opposition crowd that publicized Ter-Petrosian’s first rally in the capital since his return to active politics.
Pashinian and several other opposition figures were detained during the incident. All of them were set free the next morning after Ter-Petrosian’s personal intervention.
Pashinian said on Monday that the opposition activists took no illegal actions and were indiscriminately attacked by riot police during the 2007 incident. He argued that starting from that day, the Armenian police terrorized and arrested Ter-Petrosian supporters on a regular basis on the orders of high-ranking government officials. That shows, he said, that an atmosphere of mass persecutions reigned in Armenia in the run-up to the February 2008 election.