By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s opposition led by former president Levon Ter-Petrosian struck a defiant note on Friday after authorities refused to authorize their widely anticipated rally planned in one of Yerevan’s central squares on June 20.
Ter-Petrosian and his opposition allies formally notified the Yerevan municipality on Tuesday about their intention to rally supporters in Liberty Square for the first time since the bloody dispersal of post-election street protests on March 1.
In a statement issued late on Thursday, Yerevan’s authorities announced their decision to reject the opposition bid for the rally and a subsequent march through central streets of Yerevan at the same time offering another venue, a small square adjacent to Hrazdan Stadium, on the same day and at the same hour as stated in the notification paper.
The opposition leader’s top aid Levon Zurabian told RFE/RL that they would be filing another application for a rally in Liberty Square or otherwise in the area adjacent to the nearby Ancient Manuscripts Museum, Matenadaran, and would appeal the municipality’s decision in court if rejected again.
Kamo Movsisian, a municipality official in charge of culture and youth affairs, told RFE/RL on Friday that the municipality is going to hold a children’s event in Liberty Square on that day. The municipality claims the series of ‘Little Yerevanian’ events have been in progress in Liberty Square since June 9 following an earlier instruction by Mayor Yervand Zakharian. The event on June 20, according to the municipality, is expected to start at 11 am and last till 9 pm.
Movsisian gave assurances that the event had been scheduled in advance as part of the “children’s protection month”.
“This is one of the arrangements planned in advance. Thus, this year we also plan arrangements dedicated to the celebrations of the 2790th anniversary of the city of Yerevan and have a number of programs including not only ‘Little Yerevanian’, but also a book festival, a dance festival, and there is a decision of the mayor in connection with the ‘Little Yerevanian’ event,” Movsisian said.
He also added that kids in the square will be offered a chance of attractions and entertainments at very affordable prices that day.
The municipality also explained that its decision to ban the opposition march through Yerevan’s central thoroughfares was based on a police conclusion that the route chosen by the opposition lies through major public transportation sections and that if staged the march would result in major traffic congestions along the roads where traffic is hampered by large-scale construction work as it is. Police also said that such a march “would pose a threat to the lives and health of the participants themselves, disturb public order and result in restrictions of the constitutional rights of other members of the public.”
Armenia’s opposition had stated on numerous occasions about its plans to hold a rally in Liberty Square that day regardless of the municipality’s decision.
Zurabian called the offer of the city authorities to stage a rally near Hrazdan Stadium ‘a mockery’.
“We immediately took it as a mockery. They might as well have offered us to rally near the Sovetashen dump outside the city or at another similar place. It is an obvious attempt to deride us, naturally it is unacceptable to us,” Zurabian said.
Zurabian said they had decided to give another chance to the authorities to show respect for people’s right to assembly, but said they would go ahead with their planned rally even if the matter is not resolved by June 20.
Armenian lawmakers earlier this week eased some of the restrictions on freedom of assembly under pressure from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and other international bodies. However, the restrictions imposed by them in conditions of the state of emergency in the wake of the suppression of post-election opposition protests still remain effective until the new amendments are signed into law by President Serzh Sarkisian.