By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenian opposition parties loyal to former president Levon Ter-Petrossian lamented on Monday lack of public interest in civic activism after attracting a thin crowd for an anti-government rally dedicated to the International Human Rights Day.
About one hundred supporters of the center-right opposition marched in downtown Yerevan, using the occasion to protest alleged human rights abuses by the authorities. Organizers blamed the extremely low turnout on widespread apathy and disillusion with politics.
“Indifference has taken hold on our society which seems to have lost faith in itself,” said David Shahnazarian, leader of the small 21th Century party and a former national security minister in the Ter-Petrossian administration.
His counterpart from the allied Liberal Democratic Party, Vigen Khachatrian, offered a similar explanation. “Considering our Soviet past and the last ten years, it can be said that the people still do not realize the importance of protecting their rights,” he said.
The protest was led by former education minister Ashot Bleyan, who spent two years in prison before being released last July under a general amnesty. Bleyan was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in May in a corruption case which he and supporters believe was politically motivated.
Critics of the former authorities say Armenia’s human rights record began worsening under the Ter-Petrossian government which was widely accused of persecuting some political opponents and falsifying elections. They also blame the former regime for the mass impoverishment of the population in the early 1990s, a key cause of the decline in civic consciousness.
According to Avetik Ishkhanian of the Armenian Helsinki Committee, both the former and present authorities have violated human rights. “It’s not just the state that fails to protect human rights,” he told RFE/RL. “Even more unfortunate is the fact that the society is not particularly interested in that.”