By Hovannes Shoghikian and Astghik Bedevian
Eleven Armenian veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh continued a collective hunger strike on Wednesday to demand the release of fellow supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested in the wake of last February’s presidential election.
The protest action began in Yerevan’s Yerablur military cemetery on Tuesday. The choice of the venue was clearly meant to emphasize the presence of other, more prominent, war veterans among nearly 100 detainees whom the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition considers political prisoners.
The hunger strike continued despite an appeal from Ter-Petrosian, who visited Yerablur together with his close associates. “He urged us to stop the hunger strike, but we will continue it for now,” one of the protesters, Galust Hayrapetian, told RFE/RL.
“They must end these show trials,” said Karo Hakobian, another hunger striker.
Ter-Petrosian declined to talk to journalists both at Yerablur and the Sardarapat war memorial about 40 kilometers west of Yerevan where he attended events marking the 90th anniversary of the establishment of a short-lived independent Armenian republic.
“You should fight as long as it takes to achieve your goals,” Ter-Petrosian told a group of enthusiastic supporters that joined him there “This is not my goal. This is not about me. You should do that for your children.” “Stand firm till the end,” he added.
Ter-Petrosian arrived at Sardarapat after a small military parade attended by President Serzh Sarkisian and other senior government officials and leading pro-government politicians. Former President Robert Kocharian was also in attendance along with Grigori Sarkisian (no relation to Serzh), one of his most trusted lieutenants who was dismissed as chief of Armenia’s State Protection Service on Tuesday.
In a separate development, a young pro-Ter-Petrosian activist was attacked and beaten up by unknown men in downtown Yerevan early in the afternoon. Arsen Kharatian, a leader of the Sksel A youth movement, was hospitalized with head injuries. Kharatian told RFE/RL in hospital that the attackers said nothing as they repeatedly hit him in the head and face. He said he believes he was assaulted because of his political activities.
The 26-year-old was promptly visited and questioned by police. Nobody was arrested in connection with the attack as of Wednesday evening.