General Vladimir Gasparian, the chief of the Armenian police, praised opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian on Tuesday night just hours after his forces clashed with opposition protesters attempting to march towards the presidential palace in Yerevan.
“I regard Raffi as a peaceful person,” Gasparian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Right from the first day of our communication he has been calling for doing things in a peaceful, bloodless and constitutional way.”
Gasparian spoke moments after he and Hovannisian returned from the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan to a street leading to President Serzh Sarkisian’s offices. Hovannisian walked to the hilltop memorial after the protesters led by him failed to break through a police cordon and approach the presidential building located several hundred meters away.
Scores of riot police armed with shields and truncheons used force to stop the crowd. Gasparian arrived at the scene to negotiate with Hovannisian shortly after the violence. The opposition leader then visited the Tsitsernakabert memorial with some of the protesters through another route bypassing the presidential palace. Gasparian escorted the procession on foot and prayed with Hovannisian by the memorial’s eternal fire.
The several hundred protesters remaining on the Bagramian Avenue section were allowed to approach the presidential compound and briefly stand by its gates at around midnight, after the end of an official dinner hosted there by President Sarkisian for foreign dignitaries that attended his inauguration earlier on Tuesday.
“Dear compatriots, this building opposite us belongs to you and the Armenian people,” Hovannisian told the small crowd before it walked back to Liberty Square, the main venue of his rallies held after the February 18 presidential election.
Hovannisian reluctantly led a larger crowd from the square to Bagramian Avenue earlier in the evening after being repeatedly heckled by many of the protesters demanding more radical actions they think would bring down the government.
Speaking after the violence, Hovannisian complained about “our impatient compatriots who wanted to change everything in one minute.” “I am not ready and will not be ready to lead any young person to bloodshed and leave any of our families in grief,” he said.
Hovannisian’s erratic statements and actions on Tuesday prompted criticism from some elements in his opposition movement and especially supporters of other opposition groups. They were particularly upset by what they see as poor management of the attempted march as well as his joint appearances with Gasparian.