Armenian youth activists who led recent protests against an electricity price hike on Wednesday dismissed as “laughable” a senior Russian law-enforcement official’s claims that their campaign was part of a Western conspiracy against Armenia’s alliance with Russia.
Aleksandr Bastrykin, the powerful head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, drew parallels between the dramatic demonstrations in Yerevan and the “Euromaidan” movement in Ukraine that deposed the country’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych last year. He said Western powers and the United States in particular fomented the Yerevan protests with the aim of installing a pro-Western government.
“That’s an absolute lie,” said Rima Sargsian, one of the leaders of the No To Plunder youth group that launched the two-week protests on June 22. “I’m a free citizen of the Republic of Armenia, a lawyer by training. Nobody can ever guide my actions.”
“If I think that my fellow citizens cannot afford high energy tariffs and then raise that issue within the bounds of my legal rights, it cannot mean that I am guided by a particular [foreign] force,” she told a news conference.
Mihran Avagian, another No To Plunder activist, denied Bastrykin’s “absurd and laughable” allegations that some “Electric Yerevan” organizers called for violence against riot police and “showed other protesters very effective methods of defense against water cannons.”
“The only way we ‘countered’ the water cannon was to turn our backs and avoid injuries to our faces,” Avagian said, referring to the violent dispersal early on June 23 of mostly young demonstrators who blocked Marshal Bagramian Avenue leading to the presidential palace in Yerevan.
The police use of force outraged many in Armenia, with thousands of people taking to the streets and reoccupying the avenue later on June 23. The campaign gained more momentum in the following days. President Serzh Sarkisian offered major concessions to the protesters on June 27.
Neither Sarkisian nor any other Armenian leader has alleged Western involvement in “Electric Yerevan.” The same is true for Armenian law-enforcement authorities. Armenia’s Investigative Committee did not respond on Wednesday to a written RFE/RL request to comment on Bastrykin’s allegations.
Education Minister Armen Ashotian, who is a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), also declined a comment after initially claiming that he is “not familiar” with the allegations.
But Shushan Petrosian, a famous Armenian pop singer and parliament deputy representing the HHK, did not mince her words, calling Bastrykin’s conspiracy theory “a bit laughable.” “I don’t take it seriously because we have decent young people,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Asked about the Russian fears of a Euromaidan-style movement in Armenia, Petrosian said, “I like those fears.” She did not elaborate.