An embattled Armenian opposition party reported late on Monday that several of its members had been detained amid what it described as a continuing crackdown ordered by President Serzh Sarkisian last week.
Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) lawmaker Elinar Vartanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) that Artur Mamoyan, the leader of the party’s chapter in Yerevan’s Nor-Nork district, had been taken to a police station on unspecified grounds earlier yesterday. She said they also had information about detentions of BHK activists elsewhere in the city.
Later the police reported that Mamoyan was detained on suspicion of illegally keeping weapons and said that his detention was not politically motivated.
Vartanian, however, said that after the government labeled BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian as “evil” and launched a campaign to essentially exclude him from the political process it has been easy for the police to detain opposition activists on fabricated grounds.
“I have the impression that we are back in 1937,” said Vartanian, drawing parallels with the peak of Stalin’s purges in the Soviet Union.
“The methods of repression that were used at that time have become very relevant [for the Armenian government] today,” she added.
Vartanian unequivocally linked the crackdown against the BHK with the recent speech delivered by President Serzh Sarkisian.Addressing senior members of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia on February 12, the head of state effectively ordered tax audits of the businesses owned by Tsarukian’s extended family and recommended that the opposition figure, who hinted at his presidential ambitions last year, be dismissed from his state posts and be stripped of his parliamentary seat.
Reports on Monday said that about 200 police officers hired to provide security for Tsarukian and his property had been dismissed from work. Authorities said that the firings were not politically motivated and were part of “ongoing reforms in the police.”
In an interview with his unofficial website that was published the same day Armenia’s former president Robert Kocharian, with whom Tsarukian is believed to have close ties, warned the current administration against taking any further action against the BHK and its leader. He also described the intentions regarding Tsarukian expressed at the HHK’s recent meeting as “not fitting into the framework of the Constitution”.
“Taking into account the degree of social tensions and discontent in the country, as well as the BHK’s and its leader’s wide popularity, the more vigorously the government will try to “clean up” the political field, the stronger will be the consolidation against the government and the more so real will be the prospect of political upheavals,” Kocharian said.
On February 20, the BHK and its key allies, the Armenian National Congress and Heritage, plan to hold a joint rally in Yerevan to protest the pressure on Tsarukian.