By Astghik Bedevian and Ruzanna Stepanian
At least a dozen supporters of Levon Ter-Petrosian, among them two newspaper editors, were reportedly detained by police on Tuesday as they urged Yerevan residents to participate in a rally to be held by Armenia’s former president this week.
Representatives of the pro-Ter-Petrosian Aylentrank (Alternative) movement told RFE/RL that five of its leaders were detained after defying police orders to stop announcing Friday’s rally through a megaphone on a busy street intersection in the city center.
The five detainees were said to remain in police custody as of late evening. They reportedly included the outspoken editors of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” and “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspapers staunchly opposed to Armenia’s current leadership.
Another pro-Ter-Petrosian group, the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) party, said several of its youth activists were similarly detained by police officers while distributing leaflets in the city’s northern Nor Nork district earlier in the day. The HHSh chairman, Ararat Zurabian, told RFE/RL that some of them were released shortly afterwards. “All of this is not causing us to panic,” he said.
The Armenian police could not be immediately reached for comment.
The planned rally is widely seen as a further indication that Ter-Petrosian will contest next year’s presidential election in a bid to scuttle a planned handover of power from President Robert Kocharian to Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Ter-Petrosian loyalists say the ruling regime is increasingly worried about Ter-Petrosian’s participation in the vote.
In what may be a related development, reports from Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri said on Tuesday that tax officials raided the offices of the local Gala TV station, which appears to have enraged the authorities by broadcasting Ter-Petrosian’s September 21 speech in Yerevan.
The Gala owner, Vahan Khachatrian, claimed on Monday that he aired the speech, which contained harsh attacks on the authorities, as a paid advertisement despite a serious warning from the Kocharian-controlled National Commission on Television Radio. Khachatrian also said that officers of the Gyumri branch of the National Security Service visited him shortly afterwards and warned Gala to stop covering Ter-Petrosian’s political activities.
(Photolur photo: Nikol Pashinian, the "Haykakan Zhamanak" editor.