Yet another anti-government activist was beaten up in Yerevan late on Saturday one day after publicly defying violent reprisals which a senior Armenian police official has threatened against individuals offending President Serzh Sarkisian.
Vaghinak Shushanian was attacked and injured by unknown men in the city center. He posted photographs of his bloodied face on the Internet before receiving medical aid in hospital later in the evening.
“Two young men approached me and said, ‘Was it you, bastard, who swore at the president yesterday? So take it,’” Shushanian said on Monday. “They toppled me before I could respond and kicked and punched me for about two minutes.”
The non-partisan activist spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after being examined by forensic medics as part of a criminal investigation ordered by the police over the weekend. The police reported no arrests in connection with the incident as of Monday evening. A police spokesman said the inquiry is still underway, refusing to give any details.
Shushanian was among about 100 people who rallied outside Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian’s office on Friday to protest against sharp increases in the prices of essential goods that followed a depreciation of the Armenian dram. Addressing the crowd, he also denounced Levon Yeranosian, a deputy chief of the national police, for threatening to “cut off the ears” of anyone daring to lambaste President Sarkisian.
Yeranosian made the scandalous remark in a newspaper interview on allegations about his involvement in the December 8 beating of two fellow veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war who actively participated in recent opposition rallies in Yerevan. The two men were attacked immediately after dining with Yeranosian at a Yerevan restaurant.
One of the prominent veterans, Razmik Petrosian, says that the attackers were Yeranosian’s bodyguards. He claims that the police general, who is also the commander of Armenian interior troops, warned him to stop campaigning for regime change or leave the country.
Yeranosian has not explicitly denied his involvement in the incident, which was followed by separate attacks on another veteran and two opposition politicians. Armenia’s four leading opposition parties demanded his sacking as they boycotted parliament sessions in protest against the attacks last week.
Yeranosian was only formally reprimanded by Vladimir Gasparian, the Armenian police chief. But even that did not stop him from repeating his threats. “I stand by my words,” Yeranosian told the “Zhoghovurd” daily on December 16. “If there is anyone who will dare to say something [bad] about the commander-in-chief [Serzh Sarkisian] in front of me, I will smash his head.”
“I am offending Yeranosian and his president,” Shushanian declared during Friday’s protest. “Let Yeranosian come and pull off my ears.”
The activist insisted on Monday that this did not amount to an insult. “I didn’t swear at the president,” he said. “I said I will offend the president and Yeranosian to see how they cut my ears.”
Shushanian’s beating prompted a strong condemnation from several Armenian civic organizations critical of the government. In a joint statement they urged the European Union to freeze economic assistance to Yerevan and make its resumption conditional on Yeranosian’s sacking.
“In effect, they [the EU] are financing agencies whose leaders encourage and justify violence against freedom of speech,” said one of the signatories, Levon Barseghian of the Gyumri-based Asparez Journalists’ Club.
The EU Delegation in Yerevan expressed concern at the attacks on Armenian oppositionists in a statement released last week. It said that failure to punish their perpetrators could deepen “a sense of impunity” in Armenia.