Armenian law-enforcement authorities have again abandoned their criminal investigation into this summer’s dramatic protests in Yerevan against an electricity price hike shortly after being asked to share its details with the U.S. Embassy in Armenia.
Scores of mostly young people blocked the city’s Marshal Bagramian Avenue in late June and early July, forcing the Armenian government to effectively freeze the highly unpopular measure. Shortly afterwards, the Investigative Committee launched criminal proceedings into possible acts of “hooliganism” committed by participants of the civic movement dubbed “Electric Yerevan.”
The law-enforcement body subsequently closed the criminal case for an apparent lack of evidence, a move that was overturned by Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General in late September. The latter said that the matter was not investigated thoroughly.
The Yerevan daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” revealed on October 30 that the U.S. Embassy has requested information about the probe from the Investigative Committee. The paper cited the embassy as saying that it would specifically like to know whether “Electric Yerevan” activists and police officers accused of using excessive force against protesters and reporters are being investigated with “the same depth.”
The U.S. mission also expressed hope that the investigators will respect freedom of assembly guaranteed by the Armenian constitution.
Later on October 30, a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the case has again been closed. She declined to give any reasons for the development.
“Electric Yerevan” leaders and opposition politicians attributed it to what they see as a U.S. warning addressed to the Armenian authorities. “They just had no [incriminating] facts which they could present to the embassy,” said Maxim Sargsian, a leader of the No To Plunder youth group that launched the two-week protests on June 22.
“They would have disgraced themselves in case of presenting fabricated evidence,” he claimed. “They preferred a less disgraceful, from their perspective, outcome: another closure of the case.”
Levon Zurabian, a leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), agreed. He said the authorities hoped to forestall fresh anti-government protests with their controversial probe.
Vahram Baghdasarian, a top representative of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), denied, however, any connection between the Investigative Committee’s decision and the U.S. intervention. Baghdasarian claimed that the U.S. Embassy acted at the request of “some persons” in Armenia. He refused to name them.