Riot police clashed with about 100 angry activists and detained a dozen of them on Wednesday during an unsanctioned demonstration in Yerevan against Armenia’s accession to a Russian-led customs union.
The mostly young and non-partisan activists rallied outside the presidential administration building to condemn President Serzh Sarkisian’s unexpected decision announced on Tuesday. They said membership in the union would amount to a loss of national independence and decried Sarkisian’s failure to publicize his plans beforehand.
“Serzh Sarkisian has no mandate to speak on behalf of the people,” charged one of them. “The entire public knows that he is not a [democratically] elected president.”
Chanting “Serzhik, go away!” the protesters broke through a police cordon to approach the main entrance to the presidential compound. Some of them sat on the ground, briefly disrupting traffic along the adjacent Marshal Bagramian Avenue.
Riot police forced the crowd back to the opposite sidewalk, detaining 9 people in the process. Ashot Karapetian, the chief of the Yerevan police who personally coordinated the use of force, accused them of breaking public order. The activists were fined and set free several hours later.
Still, another activist, Argishti Kivirian, was detained after the two-hour demonstration for unclear reasons. Kivirian, who is the editor of an online publication critical of the government, remained in police custody late in the evening. He already spent several hours at a police station late last month following street protests against a controversial construction project in Yerevan.
Leaders of Armenia’s main opposition forces were absent from the demonstration. One of them, Raffi Hovannisian, strongly condemned Sarkisian’s move and demanded his resignation in a written statement. Hovannisian, who was the main opposition candidate in this year’s presidential election, accused Sarkisian of downgrading the status of Armenia’s president to that of a Russian regional governor. The U.S.-born oppositionist also called for the formation of a “united national front” against the government.
The opposition Free Democrats party, also issued a statement to denounce the “real threat to Armenia’s independence and sovereignty.” It claimed that Russia is keen to restore the Soviet Union.
By contrast, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a larger opposition party, essentially backed Sarkisian’s U-turn, attributing it to national security considerations. A Dashnaktsutyun statement at the same time criticized the Sarkisian administration for having kept the public as well as the European Union in the dark about its geopolitical plans.
There was no official reaction to the development from the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). Last year the BHK signaled support for Armenia’s accession to the Russian-led union.