By Ruben Meloyan
A group of former war veterans on a three-day hunger strike over Karabakh reported more police intervention on Friday, saying that law-enforcers have banned them from proceeding with their protest at a military cemetery in Yerevan.
About a dozen former combatants in the 1991-1994 war in Nagorno-Karabakh gathered at Yerablur on Wednesday for a hunger strike that they said was a warning to the Armenian government to abstain from striking any deal with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh implying an Armenian military withdrawal from the districts surrounding the unrecognized republic. They further demanded that Armenia’s authorities should formally recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as its integral part and also release the ‘political prisoners’ jailed in the wake of the post-election clashes, among whom are also several veterans of the Karabakh war.
About five of the protesters were forced to suspend their strike on Wednesday night. They, however, managed to regroup to continue the action the following day. A representative of Armenia’s ombudsman visited the site later during that day and after talking to police officials assured the citizens that they were fully entitled to continue the protest without changing the venue.
Vartan Malkhasian, a former field commander from Armenia’s northern province of Tavush, told RFE/RL that police again interfered at about 11 pm Thursday on the ground of complaints received from residents living close by and eventually forced them to stop the protest.
Police did not allow the protesters to resume their action at Yerablur in the morning either.
As of Friday afternoon, the entrance to the cemetery remained blocked by at least three police vehicles and about a dozen police workers on duty.
Police lieutenant-colonel Gagik Amirjanian, who is a senior representative at the district police, accused the veterans of sleeping inside a nearby church and littering the area. He added that no protest actions were allowed to be staged at Yerablur.
The veterans, however, said they were convinced that the police have been acting on orders from the political authorities.
Workers of the United States embassy in Yerevan visited the hunger-strikers on Friday afternoon. They reportedly talked to both the protesters and the police controlling their area.
Since 1988, Yerablur, located on a hilltop in the outskirts of Yerevan, has been the resting place for soldiers who lost their lives during the Karabakh war.
Police major-general Ara Zakarian, who is in charge of the department that provides police protection to more than 4,000 state buildings, religious and cultural centers and private apartments throughout Armenia, confirmed to RFE/RL that Yerablur is not on the list of facilities where police protection is required.
Earlier, speaking to RFE/RL, Mikael Danielian, the head of the Armenian Helsinki Association, said the police demands in the case were ‘illegal’.
Meanwhile, the veterans intend to end their hunger strike as planned on Saturday afternoon. It is not yet clear whether they plan any further public protests in the future.