The Armenian police said on Wednesday that they are trying to identify and prosecute the “organizers” of violent protests in Gyumri that followed the January 12 massacre of a local family blamed on a Russian soldier.
Hundreds of local residents clashed with riot police near the Russian consulate in the northwestern Armenian city on January 15 as they demanded that the soldier, Valery Permyakov, be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities. The violence followed a larger and peaceful demonstration staged outside the local prosecutor’s office.
More two dozen protesters were detained on the spot. All of them were set free the following morning. Nevertheless, they as well as dozens of other Gyumri citizens have received police summonses over the past week.
Vladimir Gasparian, the national police chief, defended their ongoing interrogations. “The police are right to summon Gyumri protesters for questioning,” he told reporters in Yerevan. “You can’t organize such things and go unpunished. Those who organized that violence, who thought that they can stir up trouble and hurl stones at policemen must be found and punished.”
“The organizers must be subjected to criminal liability,” added Gasparian.
One of Gasparian’s deputies, Hunan Poghosian, said on Monday that 27 people are now risking prosecution on charges of hooliganism and violent resistance to the police. He confirmed that nobody has been charged yet.
The peaceful Gyumri rallies were led by several local non-partisan activists known for their advocacy of civil rights. One of them, Levon Barseghian, on Tuesday condemned the police interrogations, saying that the Armenian authorities are bullying the local population to stave off fresh anti-government and anti-Russian protests.
“Their main fear is that the people will again take to the streets,” Barseghian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But they don’t realize that they are playing with fire.”
Barseghian, who is a member of Gyumri’s municipal assembly, blamed the police for the January 15 violence, saying that the protesters never intended to attack the Russian consulate.
Both the protest leaders and the Gyumri-based Archbishop Mikael Ajapahian have warned that the unrest could reignite if the authorities fail to push for Permyakov’s extradition. Gasparian sounded ambiguous on that score, saying only that Russian and Armenian law-enforcement bodies are continuing to investigate the brutal killings of the seven members of the Avetisian family.