Paruyr Hayrikian, a veteran Armenian politician and Soviet-era dissident, scuffled with angry youth activists in Yerevan late on Thursday after joining their nonstop demonstration against an electricity price rise with European Union flags.
They accused him of giving more weight to Russian claims that the ongoing “Electric Yerevan” movement is part of a Western conspiracy to trigger another “color revolution” in the former Soviet Union.
Hayrikian and about a dozen of his supporters waved EU and Armenian flags as they made their way into a section of the city’s Marshal Bagramian Avenue that has been blocked by the mostly young protesters for the past 11 days. This angered some of those activists, who started booing and chanting “Provocateur!” and “Go away!”
Hayrikian and the men accompanying him agreed to remove the EU flags after an ensuing argument and brief scuffle with several dozen protesters.
Hayrikian condemned their “shameful conduct” and defended his actions afterwards. He said that the flags were meant to support lawsuits that have been filed with the European Court of Human Rights by 16 participants of the June 23 protest on Marshal Bagramian Avenue broken up by riot police.
Hayrikian also said that Europe is a symbol of “civilization.” “This flag doesn’t offend anyone except Russian fascist fanatics and their servants,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Hayrikian and his loyalists similarly carried EU flags when they joined thousands of people in their first march to the avenue on June 22. Organizers of that march convinced them to put down the flags. But that did not keep Russian government-controlled TV channels as well as some commentators from alleging that the West is behind the “Electric Yerevan” movement.
No To Plunder, a youth group that launched the protests, and the current protest leaders have gone out of their way to deny any geopolitical motives behind their campaign, saying that its sole aim is to reverse a more than 17 percent rise in energy tariffs in Armenia.
Davit Sanasarian, one of those leaders, denounced Hayrikian, saying that the protest organizers are against displaying any foreign flags at the scene of their continuing standoff with riot police deployed nearby. Sanasarian also criticized those protesters who responded to Hayrikian’s “provocative” behavior with violence.
Hayrikian, who will turn 66 on Sunday, had spent more than a decade in Soviet prisons in the 1970s and 1980s because of campaigning for Armenia’s independence. He has repeatedly and unsuccessfully run for president since the Soviet collapse. His Self-Determination Union party was represented in Armenia’s parliament in the 1990s.