The Armenian authorities rejected on Monday allegations that they ordered the latest beatings of anti-government activists in an effort to quash an opposition campaign of protests against President Serzh Sarkisian.
Senior representatives of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) argued that the Sarkisian administration had no reason to reignite political tensions after the failure of three major opposition parties to seriously threaten its hold on power during their recent demonstrations. They also claimed that last week’s attacks on five active participants of those protests may have been orchestrated by forces keen to undercut the government.
“This was done against us,” said Vahram Baghdasarian, the leader of the HHK’s parliamentary elections. But he would not be drawn on who might have been behind the attacks.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK spokesman and a deputy parliament speaker, also spoke of a possible provocation against the government. “I can’t tell,” he said when asked to name concrete organizers. “It will be unserious if I make theoretical judgments now.”
While condemning the violence, Sharmazanov stressed: “Those who claim that the authorities and the president in particular were behind that are spreading slander, primitive slander.”
Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian similarly dismissed claims that last week’s three separate incidents as well as an earlier series of arson attacks on cars belonging to several members of another opposition group were the work of the Armenian authorities. “We have a right to make different comments, but only the investigation will determine who perpetrated that violence and for what reasons and purposes,” Kostanian told a news conference. “We can’t draw conclusions before the investigation is over.”
Two of the attacked activists are senior members of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), an opposition party led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. One of them, Aram Manukian is a parliament deputy, while the other, Ashot Piliposian, leads the HAK chapter in the central town of Hrazdan.
Just hours after Piliposian was beaten up in Hrazdan on Friday, the Armenian police said they have identified two residents of a nearby village who confessed to attacking the oppositionist. The police also briefly detained on Sunday a man who admitted attacking Manukian outside his Yerevan home on Thursday. A police statement said nothing about the man’s motives.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee said on Monday that the 41-year-old suspect, Arshak Svazian, was released from custody pending investigation.A spokeswoman for the law-enforcement agency told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the investigation is being conducted under a Criminal Code article dealing with assaults resulting in minor injuries. It carries a prison sentence of up to two months.
Kostanian denied that the law-enforcement authorities’ decision not keep Svazian under arrest means that he is receiving lenient treatment.
The chief prosecutor also declined to comment on the reported involvement of Levon Yeranosian, a deputy chief of the Armenian police, in the beating of two other oppositionists, Manvel Yeghiazarian and Razmik Petrosian. The two men were assaulted on December 8 after dining with Yeranosian at a Yerevan restaurant.
The police general afterwards did not explicitly deny ordering the attack. He told a newspaper that he will “cut off the ears” of anyone daring to lambaste President Sarkisian. It was announced over the weekend that Vladimir Gasparian, the national police chief, formally reprimanded Yeranosian for the scandalous remark.