By Ruzanna Stepanian
Several dozen opposition supporters clashed with police in the central town of Hrazdan on Tuesday following the disappearance of nine supporters of a local parliamentarian arrested as part of the continuing government crackdown on the Armenian opposition.
The nine men joined on Monday a local resident and a fellow veteran of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Arshaluys Bozinian, in beginning a hunger strike to demand the release of their former commander and parliament deputy Sasun Mikaelian. Bozinian, who has refused food for the past 15 days, said all of them were detained and driven away by the police shortly after midnight.
About 70 residents of Hrazdan’s Vanatur suburb, Mikaelian’s place of residence, gathered the next morning to demand the hunger strikers’ release. The protesters said at least five of them are being kept at the Hrazdan police headquarters while others were taken to police stations in two other towns close to Yerevan.
Vartan Khachatrian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage), arrived in Hrazdan to try to clarify the missing protesters’ whereabouts but was not allowed to enter the police building. “This is a blatant violation of human rights,” he told RFE/RL. “I need to see the people to be certain that are they are not subjected to violence in police custody. But it’s impossible to clarify anything.”
A senior police officer claimed later in the day that none of the Mikaelian supporters was arrested. The policeman spoke through a megaphone as the police building was surrounded by the angry crowd demanding the men’s release. “Why did they catch innocent people at two in the morning?” shouted one elderly man.
Arusyak Sargsian, whose son was among the missing hunger strikers, claimed that she was allowed to visit him in police custody in the morning. “I went there to give him medicine,” she said.
Clashes broke out when the mostly female protesters tried to prevent two police vehicles, which they said carried the detainees, from leaving the compound. The cars managed to speed away from the scene moments later. The protesters marched back to Vanatur after the police threatened to use force to disperse them.
Vanatur residents have protested on a virtually daily basis ever since Mikaelian was arrested a month ago and charged in connection with the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between security forces and thousands of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. Similar charges have also been leveled against over 100 other Ter-Petrosian loyalists.