Several dozen Armenian veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war demonstrated in Yerevan on Friday to demand the release of their leader Volodya Avetisian who was arrested last month after organizing a series of street protests against the government.
The protesters marched to the Office of the Prosecutor-General and the main government building in Yerevan to again condemn the controversial criminal case brought against Avetisian. “We are not asking, we are demanding the immediate release of Volodya Avetisian and end of criminal proceedings against him,” one of them said through a megaphone.
Avetisian was charged on September 20 with having “embezzled” $2,000 from another man through a false promise to have his grandson exempted from compulsory military service. The retired army colonel and his supporters strongly deny charge, saying that the authorities are thus trying to stop him from campaigning for a sizable increase in veterans’ pensions.
The campaign began in May with a lone protest staged by Avetisian in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
The veteran was expected to be set free under a general amnesty that was declared by the Armenian authorities recently. However, prosecutors made such an outcome less likely with another fraud accusation that was brought against Avetisian on Thursday.
“Everything is being done to not extend the amnesty to him,” one of the protesting veterans told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said the veterans will keep taking to the streets until their leader is freed.
The protesters also accused Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian of breaking his pledge to raise their pensions which they said was given to Avetisian.