Municipal authorities in Yerevan have banned the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) from rallying supporters in a key Yerevan square on September 17 and offered it to stage the demonstration elsewhere in the city center.
The HAK on Thursday denounced the move as politically motivated but did not say whether it will defy the ban. The opposition alliance said it will clarify its further actions on Friday.
The HAK formally notified the Yerevan Mayor’s Office on Monday of its plans to hold a rally in Liberty Square, the main traditional venue for political gatherings in Armenia, for the first time in more than two years.
In a written reply made public late on Wednesday, the municipality rejected the application, saying that the square will not be available for any gatherings because of its unfolding preparations for an annual festival held in the Armenian capital in October.
It said the opposition bloc can hold the rally in another, less convenient square facing the Matenadaran museum of ancient manuscripts. It also allowed HAK supporters to march through the city center.
The bloc led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian has had to gather its followers outside Matenadaran ever since the bloody break-up of its non-stop demonstrations staged in Liberty Square following the disputed February 2008 presidential election.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, claimed that President Serzh Sarkisian personally ordered the Yerevan municipality to keep the square off limits to the Armenian opposition. “The authorities are terrified that the opposition wants to again hold a rally in Liberty Square and are doing everything to prevent any public event in the square on ridiculous grounds,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“Regarding any concession as an end to your power is a dictator’s mentality,” said Zurabian. “And so they are not ready to make any concessions.”
Zurabian said that the municipality’s decision was taken in “blatant violation” of an Armenian law which stipulates that a street gathering can be banned only if it clashes with another public event planned beforehand. He argued that the municipal administration announced no plans to use the square on September 17 before the HAK’s notification.
But Gagik Baghdasarian, a senior municipality official responsible for the matter, insisted on the legality of the ban. “The municipality couldn’t inform itself of its plans,” he told RFE/RL.