Armenian law-enforcement agencies have brushed aside opposition claims that their recent actions targeting some political activists are part of a wider crackdown ordered by the government.
Police spokesman Ashot Aharonian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) on Tuesday that the recent detentions of members of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) are not politically motivated and are part of the routine work conducted by the Armenian police.
Armenia - President Serzh Sarkisian (R) and businessman Gagik Tsarukian attend the consecration of a new church built by the latter in Abovian, 14May2013.
The BHK led by embattled tycoon Gagik Tsarukian reported late on Monday that several of its members had been detained amid what it described as a continuing campaign of reprisals ordered by President Serzh Sarkisian.
Lawmaker Elinar Vartanian said that Artur Mamoyan, the leader of the party’s branch in Yerevan’s Nor-Nork district, had been detained along with several other BHK members. The Yerevan police said Mamoyan was detained on suspicion of illegally possessing weapons.
Also, police officers reportedly searched a hotel owned by BHK lawmaker Ruben Gevorkian and also reopened a criminal investigation against the son of another member of the BHK parliamentary faction.
The BHK linked the detentions and other police actions targeting its members and activists with the February 12 speech by President Sarkisian, who openly called Tsarukian “evil” and urged his ruling Republican Party to seek his ouster from politics.
In response, the BHK and its key opposition allies, the Armenian National Congress and Heritage, scheduled a joint rally in Yerevan for February 20 to demand Sarkisian’s resignation.
“I have the impression that we are back in 1937,” said the BHK’s 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.
But police spokesman Aharonian said: “The police have repeatedly stated that they are an apolitical structure and in carrying out their functions they are absolutely not interested in what political views one person or another has.”
“These issues are within the legal domain and I call [on the opposition] not to shift them artificially into the political dimension,” the police official said.
Meanwhile, leader of the HHK parliamentary faction Vahram Baghdasarian acknowledged that the police actions may be aimed at preventing the illegal possession of weapons by some BHK activists. He stressed, however, that against the backdrop of “anti-government statements” being made by BHK leaders the police actions are perfectly “legal” and justified.