A man arrested for his role in last month’s violent protest near the Russian consulate in Gyumri was set free on Friday just hours before scores of people were due to rally in Armenia’s second largest city to demand his release.
Mnatsakan Aleksanian, a 22-year-old resident of nearby Sarnaghbyur village, was detained on Wednesday in connection with the January 15 clashes between riot police and angry protesters demanding that a Russian soldier accused of murdering a local Armenian family be handed over to Armenian authorities. Armenia’s police and Investigative Committee said that Aleksanian is suspected of hooliganism.
The young man’s arrest angered many Sarnaghbyur residents as well as civic activists in Gyumri who helped to organize larger and peaceful demonstrations there on January 14-15. The villagers gave Armenian law-enforcement authorities until Friday afternoon to free Aleksanian or face unspecified “drastic” actions. The activists, for their part, scheduled a rally for around the same time.
Just hours before the protest, Felix Tsolakian, the governor of Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province, told Karen Petrosian, one of the organizers, that Aleksanian is about to be released from custody. The protest was called off as a result.
Aleksanian was freed without charge. “I want to thank all of you,” he told reporters moments after emerging from a police station in Akhurian, a small town near Gyumri. He said he will not hesitate to take part in further “peaceful marches.”
Petrosian and other activists have pledged to stage more rallies if the Russian authorities refuse to place Valery Permyakov, a Russian soldier charged in the January 12 massacre, under Armenian jurisdiction.
“I think there will be no more arrests,” Petrosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “This is my subjective opinion. If they want arrests, they must arrest all 3,000 people who rallied that day -- and me in the first place.”
“I think the authorities came to their senses rapidly this time around,” said Levon Barseghian, another protest leader. “They probably feared that there will be mass protests and decided to back down. Let them live in fear. That’s better than troubling our citizens.”
“The police had better look into their actions and mistakes,” Barseghian added in reference to the January 15 unrest. He insisted that the protesters confronted security forces in self-defense.