By Astghik BedevianA young activist of a small opposition party supporting former President Levon Ter-Petrosian was hospitalized and remained in intensive care on Thursday after being severely beaten by unknown assailants.
Narek Galstian, the 20-year-old leader of the youth league of the Social Democrat Hnchankian Party (SDHK), and other Ter-Petrosian loyalists were quick to accuse the Armenian authorities of orchestrating the attack. They claimed that it is part of an ongoing campaign of government “repressions” against supporters of the resurgent ex-president.
Lying on his hospital bed, Galstian told RFE/RL that a taxi carrying him was blocked by another car as it drove through a northern Yerevan suburb in the morning. He said three young then got out of the car and began punching and kicking him.
“They apparently also used a blunt object,” he said. “One of them said, ‘If you tell anything to newspapers, I’ll kill you next time.’ But I told them that I will keep speaking up. I promise the people who did it that they will never manage to intimidate me.”
Galstian, who worked as a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Yerevan bureau until last spring, was hopitalized to the nearby Surp Grigor Lusavorich hospital with numerous cuts on his head that were promptly stitched by doctors. Galstian’s head was completely bandaged as he was interviewed later in the day.
The young oppositionist said he was visited and questioned by police investigators after the surgery. He said he told them that he remembers seeing one of the attackers at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport the previous night. “They were probably following me,” he said, referring to the attackers.
The violence occurred just two days after Galstian and another SDHK youth were reportedly detained by the police while posting leaflets in Yerevan’s northern Nor Nork district that urged Armenians to “reject” Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian in the upcoming presidential elections. They said they were told not to engage in anti-government propaganda anymore and were set free three hours later.
Galstian claimed that they were also warned against publicizing the fact of their detention. He said on Thursday he is therefore convinced that his beating was ordered by the Armenian authorities.
The claim was echoed by Lyudmila Sargsian, the SDHK chairwoman. “A strong government does not resort to such actions,” she told RFE/RL. “This was a show of force by a weak government.”
“It’s not that easy to terrorize us. We entered this struggle consciously and this incident proves that we are on the right path,” she added.
Nikol Pashinian, the outspoken leader of another pro-Ter-Petrosian group, Aylentrank (Alternative), also condemned the attack as politically motivated. “The number of our supporters is growing day by day, and the authorities realize that events are taking a dangerous turn for them,” he said. “That is why they are taking jittery steps which will not yield any results.”
Pashinian himself is facing prosecution on criminal charges that stem from an October 23 clash between riot police and a small crowd of Ter-Petrosian supporters that marched through central Yerevan to advertise the ex-president’s rally held three days later. Pashinian and four other participants of the march were briefly arrested before bbeing charged with hooliganism and assault on state officials.
Ter-Petrosian, who is emerging as the main opposition candidate in the February 19 presidential election, will lead another opposition rally in the city’s Liberty Square on Friday. According to Suren Abrahamian, a leader of the opposition Hanrapetutyun Party, several more opposition parties will endorse Ter-Petrosian’s presidential bid during the protest. He said the ex-president will deliver another important speech that will contain “answers to questions raised by the public.”