By Ruzanna KhachatrianAn opposition rally in a village near Yerevan was effectively disrupted on Monday after police allegedly ordered local residents not to attend it.
Only a small group of people, most of them youngsters and elderly persons, gathered in the main square of the village of Goghtn to greet opposition leader Stepan Demirchian and senior members of his People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) late in the afternoon. They blamed the poor attendance on police intimidation
Demirchian also laid the blame on the authorities. “This is just a sign of great fear felt by a regime which is in its death throes,” he told the tiny crowd.
“This demonstrates that the regime will use police forces to try to stop opposition forces meeting with the people,” said another HZhK leader, Stepan Zakarian.
Residents of nearby houses watched the oppositionists from their courtyards. Some of them said police officers dispersed a much larger crowd that gathered there two hours before the start of the rally.
“The police didn’t let people go to the rally,” claimed one man. “They threatened to detain us. They can do whatever they want.”
“This is a free and independent country,” said one of the few protesters. “How come they ban such things? Let them (opposition leaders) come and talk to us.”
However, the head of the village administration, Ashot Hakobian, denied the claims, saying that the rally was legal and nobody could ban it. “The police did allow the rally,” he said.
Still, the clearly intimidating presence of a large group of law-enforcement officers led by a regional police chief, Manvel Andreasian, in the village square raised questions. Andreasian reacted extremely rudely to journalists’ requests to explain the unusually strong police presence in Goghtn.
“This is my territory and I’m doing my job. Don’t hamper me,” he said.
“Go away and mind your business,” Andreasian added, shoving an RFE/RL reporter. “Don’t put your microphone into my mouth. It’s not your business. I’m not obliged to tell you anything.”
The incident took place less than a month after the disruption of a rally held by another Armenian opposition, Aram Karapetian, in the central town of Sevan. The violence, blamed by Karapetian on the authorities, was condemned by virtually all major Armenian parties, including the three members of the ruling coalition.
Karapetian, Demirchian as well as other prominent oppositionists have pledged to achieve regime change in Armenia with a campaign of nationwide street protests. The authorities consider such actions unconstitutional.