The leader of a radical Armenian opposition group said on Wednesday that he and his associates will again try to stage a rally in Nagorno-Karabakh despite being forcibly barred from entering the territory on January 31.
Zhirayr Sefilian again condemned the Karabakh police for attacking a procession of about 30 cars carrying members of his Founding Parliament movement.
More than two dozen of them, including Sefilian, were injured despite apparently not attempting to break through the police cordon on Armenia’s border with the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). Many of their cars were vandalized by police officers even as they sped away from the scene.
The authorities in Stepanakert defended the use of force condemned by Armenia’s leading opposition parties. Bako Sahakian, the NKR president, at the same time ordered a police inquiry into the incident. He assured a visiting fact-finding delegation of Armenia’s parliament at the weekend that those responsible for the violence will be identified and punished.
It is not clear whether they may include Karabakh policemen. According to delegation members, Sahakian insisted that letting the Founding Parliament rally supporters in Stepanakert would have endangered Karabakh’s security given the recent upsurge in fighting along the nearby “line of contact” with Azerbaijani forces.
Sefilian, who was a prominent field commander during the 1991-1994 Karabakh war, dismissed this argument, saying that freedom of assembly in Armenia is not restricted despite the fact that many of its residents live close to the tense border with Azerbaijan.
“We were right to go there,” the Lebanese-born activist told a news conference in Yerevan. “We will again go there. Nobody can impose his will on us. We decide what to do.” He gave no possible dates for the next attempt to enter Karabakh.
Sefilian also defended the Founding Parliament’s controversial pledges to topple President Serzh Sarkisian in time for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide to be marked on April 24. He accused Sarkisian of leading the country into ruin and spoke of a grave threat to its independence emanating from membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
“If we don’t achieve regime change very soon we won’t achieve it even several months later and this ruling elite will tell the people that we are incapable of being an independent state and should hand over Artsakh to Russian troops and become part of Russia,” he said.
The Founding Parliament holds no seats in the National Assembly and is critical of the mainstream Armenian opposition. It has so far failed to attract large crowds to its rallies held in Yerevan and other parts of the country.
Sefilian, 47, has campaigned for regime change in Armenia and against any territorial concessions to Azerbaijan for almost a decade. He was arrested in December 2006 after setting up a union of fellow war veterans opposed to then President Robert Kocharian. Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claimed they planned to mount an armed uprising against the Kocharian government. He denied the charges as politically motivated.
Sefilian was cleared of the coup charge during his subsequent trial. Still, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for illegal arms possession.
In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights fined the Armenian authorities 6,000 euros ($6,800) for keeping Sefilian under pre-trial arrest without sufficient legal grounds. The court also said the NSS had illegally wiretapped the outspoken oppositionist’s phone conversations.