By Ruzanna Stepanian and Anna Saghabalian
Armenia’s two main security agencies denied on Wednesday rounding up opposition activists across the country and warning them against campaigning for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s victory in next February’s presidential election.
In a weekend speech and a written statement issued on Tuesday, Ter-Petrosian claimed that the Armenian police and the National Security Service (NSS) have been busy in the past three months subjecting his supporters to “psychological pressure, intimidation and threats.” He said thousands of his them have been summoned to regional offices of the two law-enforcement bodies for that purpose.
The NSS was quick to rebut the claims, saying that it remains an “apolitical structure” and is not involved in any repression against government opponents. “The NSS once again states that it is operating within the bounds of its authority defined by Armenian law and that all attempts to draw security bodies into the internal political struggle are fruitless,” the Armenian successor to the Soviet KGB said in a statement.
In a warning clearly addressed to the Ter-Petrosian camp, the NSS director, Gorik Hakobian, accused unnamed opposition forces on December 20 of planning to provoke “civil clashes” during the February 19 elections and said his agency will thwart such attempts. Hakobian issued the warning as he marked his and his employees’ official professional holiday dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the creation of the VChK, Bolshevik Russia’s infamous secret police later renamed into KGB.
The Armenian police also dismissed Ter-Petrosian’s allegations. A spokesman told RFE/RL that the police will issue a detailed statement disproving them.
A spokesman for the Ter-Petrosian campaign insisted, however, that its activists have faced government harassment en masse. Aleksandr Arzumanian told RFE/RL that his office has document hundreds of such instances in weekly reports issued since the beginning of November. “There are even instances of people being fired because of supporting the first president,” he said.
The Armenian authorities already sparked controversy by launching controversial tax crackdowns on a wealthy businessman supporting Ter-Petrosian and a provincial TV station that broke ranks to air a September speech by the former president. They also prompted strong opposition criticism for breaking up a small pro-Ter-Petrosian demonstration in October and arresting its organizers. That was followed by the beating last month of a young opposition activist campaigning for the ex-president.
The incidents heightened political tension in the country in the run-up to the February election. There are mounting fears that the situation could further escalate on election day and in the immediate aftermath of the vote.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian echoed those fears as he spoke to journalists on Wednesday. “When I hear [election-related] speeches and statements, I have some concerns as to whether there will be upheavals,” he said. “I hope that there won’t be such upheavals because we can not afford to create situations that could have serious negative consequences for the country.”
(Photolur photo: Ter-Petrosian supporters rally in Yerevan.)