By Astghik BedevianMore than a dozen members of Armenia’s parliament on Thursday condemned as politically motivated the beating and ensued arrest in Yerevan of an Armenian nationalist activist from Georgia’s restive Javakheti region.
Vahagn Chakhalian, a leader of the United Javakhk organization campaigning for the Armenian-populated region’s greater autonomy, was taken to custody and later charged with illegally entering Armenia on October 11 just hours after being assaulted by a large group of unknown men.
Chakhalian, his parents, brother and another United Javakhk activist, Gurgen Shirinian, were reportedly stopped and beaten up by the assailants as they arrived in Yerevan in a car. Shirnian is said to have been stabbed and hospitalized with life-threatening wounds. Nobody has been detained in connection with the incident so far.
Armenian law-enforcement authorities have targeted Chakhalian instead, saying that he crossed into the country without a valid Georgian passport and must stand trial on relevant charges. A Yerevan court has already allowed to them to keep the young man in pre-trial detention.
In a joint statement, 15 Armenian parliamentarians, most of them affiliated with the opposition Artarutyun alliance, claimed a “shameful link” between the beatings and the criminal proceedings, demanding Chakhalian’s immediate release. They accused the Armenian authorities of trying to please the Georgian government which has been accused by United Javakhk of rigging local elections held in Javakheti earlier this month. “Instead of solving the brutal crime committed against national activists, the law-enforcement bodies of the Republic of Armenia are trying to cover it up and punish its victims by ‘legal’ means,” the statement said.
United Javakhk rallied hundreds of supporters in the regional town of Akhalkalaki. The demonstration turned violent, with the protesters seizing the local government building before being dispersed by police.
The ethnic Armenian group, which ran on the ticket of a major Georgian opposition party, claims to have been robbed of victory in the October 5 polls held across Georgia. The local election commission rejected the allegations. Official vote results showed the National Movement Party of President Mikhail Saakashvili winning the majority of votes in most parts of the country, including Javakheti.
In a surprise move, the ruling party formed an electoral alliance with another, more famous Akhalkalaki-based Armenian group that has long been demanding a status of autonomy for Javakheti. The Yerevan daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” reported on Thursday that Armenia’s leadership played a major role in the deal with the group Virk and is now keen to help the Saakashvili government neutralize other local nationalist groups.
Meanwhile, Chakhalian’s arrest has infuriated United Javakhk supporters. Scores of them marched towards the Armenian border to demand his release from jail last week.
The Javakheti section of the Georgian-Armenian frontier has long been largely porous, with Georgian and Armenian border guards routinely allowing local residents to cross it with documents other than passports.