Bako Sahakian, the Nagorno-Karabakh president, on Tuesday ordered the local police to investigate their violent response to dozens of opposition activists from Armenia who attempted to enter Karabakh at the weekend.
Speaking at an emergency meeting with senior officials in Stepanakert, Sahakian at the same time effectively defended the use of force against them, which has drawn strong condemnations from the Armenian opposition, media and human rights activists.
A motorcade of some 30 cars carrying leaders and members of the Yerevan-based group Founding Parliament was stopped by the Karabakh police at Armenia’s border with the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) on Saturday. An Internet video of the incident shows that some of the oppositionists were beaten up despite not attempting to break through the police cordon. Many of the cars were vandalized by uniformed policemen and plainclothes men even as they sped away from the scene.
A statement by Sahakian’s office quoted the NKR leader as saying that his security forces “had to take appropriate measures” in order to prevent clashes between the Founding Parliament activists and Karabakh Armenians unhappy with the group’s decision to take its campaign for “regime change” in Armenia to Stepanakert. “Unfortunately, we failed to prevent disturbances and clashes that have had a public resonance,” he said.
According to the statement, Sahakian went on to instruct his police chief, Kamo Aghajanian, to launch a “meticulous internal inquiry” into the incident. Sahakian will draw “necessary conclusions” as a result of that probe, it said.
Sahakian’s assurances were dismissed by government critics in Yerevan. Zaruhi Postanjian, an outspoken parliamentarian from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, said the authorities in Stepanakert should “apologize to the Armenian people” and punish those responsible for what she considers an illegal crackdown.
“They resorted to violence against citizens who attempted to stage a peaceful march in Stepanakert, the second Armenian capital,” Postanjian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Yervand Varosian, a well-known lawyer, branded Sahakian’s order “absurd.” “Police officers can’t investigate themselves,” he said. “The publicized images show that they should have at least opened a criminal case. You can see in the video clear elements of abuse of power.”