Riot police used force against environmental campaigners on Wednesday in a continuing standoff over the controversial construction of kiosks in a small public park in downtown Yerevan.
The violence erupted after two dozen intellectuals and other public figures broke through a police cordon to occupy some of the under-construction shops placed there last month. Police officers pushed them out moments later but did not arrest anyone despite an earlier warning.
The warning was issued late last week after a group of prominent Armenians joined in more than month-long protests staged in Mashtots Park by dozens of younger activists on a virtually daily basis. They threatened to dismantle the kiosks if the authorities do not do that themselves by Wednesday.
The policemen exercised caution as they forcibly removed the protesters wearing yellow construction hard hats from the properties. One of them, film director Tigran Khzmalian, was dragged away by several officers after holding on to a kiosk pillar.
“Get him out but without [too much] physical force,” Robert Melkonian, a deputy chief of the Yerevan police present at the scene, told his subordinates.
Another protester, political scientist Andreas Ghukasian, challenged Melkonian to arrest him and his comrades. “We are ready. Punish us,” said Ghukasian.
“We don’t want to arrest you,” replied Melkonian. “I’m just amazed by your strong desire.” “We are urging you not to go to extremes,” added the police official.
The campaigners left the park shortly afterwards, promising to stage fresh and larger protests there. “This is only the beginning,” Khzmalian told journalists. “We will bring along a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand people.”