Defying a state of emergency, more than two dozen women marched in Yerevan on Saturday to pay their respects to at least eight people killed in the March 1 clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The protest was timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, which is marked as a public holiday in Armenia.
Police urged the women clad in black to disperse but avoided using force. The 20-day state of emergency declared by President Robert Kocharian bans all public gatherings in the capital.
Escorted by dozens of police officers, the small crowd walked down a street in central Yerevan where riot police fought pitched battles with thousands of Ter-Petrosian supporters demanding a rerun of Armenia’s disputed presidential election. The protesters tied black ribbons and white carnations to trees lining the street.
They then stopped by a nearby church and prayed for the dead before proceeding to a major street intersection outside the Yerevan municipality where tens of thousands of people barricaded themselves on March 1. Police allowed some of the protesters to lay flowers at a podium from which Ter-Petrosian’s associates addressed the crowd.
“It’s been seven days since the massacre,” one young woman told RFE/RL. “We have gathered to pray for their souls.”
“We came out so that they know that it is not easy to demoralize us,” said another. “We will keep coming out even if they kill us.”
Several other protesters said their sons and other family members are among at least 60 opposition activists and supporters arrested by the authorities following the deadly clashes. “They beat up and jailed my son,” said one of them. “He is now facing three to six years in prison for chanting ‘Levon!’”
Another elderly woman said her son was set free after spending one day in police custody. “I am very proud of my boy,” she said.