Armenia’s main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) party and a number of other groups opposed to the current government staged a joint rally on Tuesday in commemoration of victims of 2008 post-election clashes.
Several thousand opposition supporters gathered in Yerevan’s Liberty Square from where they marched towards a location in the Armenian capital where the bloody unrest took place eight years ago.
Opposition members laid flowers at the square near which ten people were killed and more than 100 others were injured on March 1-2, 2008 when security forces suppressed protests by supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who disputed the outcome of an election in which President Serzh Sarkisian won his first presidential term.
Ter-Petrosian, who underwent a cancer surgery in January, was absent from the rally. Among the parties and groups that joined the rally tonight were also the extra-parliamentary New Armenia Public Salvation Front, one of whose leaders is Sarkisian’s 2013 presidential election challenger Raffi Hovannisian, the People’s Party of Armenia of Ter-Petrosian’s ally Stepan Demirchian, the Civil Contract party recently set up by lawmaker Nikol Pashinian, who spent more than two years in prison for his alleged role in the 2008 events, Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hayrikian’s Union for National Self-Determination and opposition activist Ashot Manucharian’s Hayastan (Armenia) initiative. Some relatives of the killed citizens also took place in the commemorations.
Speakers at the event stressed that eight years after the killings no one has been brought to justice yet. They again accused the authorities of covering up the crimes.
“Despite the pledges of [President] Serzh Sarkisian given under the pressure of the opposition to restart the investigation, there is no investigation at the moment despite the fact that formally the case is not closed,” Levon Zurabian, a senior HAK member, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
“No one is arrested, no one is charged, nothing is being done in this direction as they are engaged in imitating the process,” the oppositionist charged.
New Armenia’s coordinator Jirair Sefilian expressed satisfaction that at least on such a day leading opposition groups managed to come together. “It is not the first time that we try to form unity over some idea and this was another attempt,” said the opposition hardliner referring to the joint statement of six opposition parties pledging consistent efforts to achieve the disclosure of the ‘March 1’ crimes.
Sefilian, members of whose opposition movement have been holding small-scale protests in downtown Yerevan since December 1, again stated that he viewed street protests as the only way of “getting rid of the dictatorship”.
Late last week Armenian authorities warned the opposition group that nighttime protests in Liberty Square will be “banned” until March 25. They did not rationalize their decision. New Armenia representatives have dismissed the warning.
Speaking at tonight’s rally members of the opposition also drew the attention of the visiting European Union’s foreign and security policy chief, Federica Mogherini, to “the presence of political prisoners in Armenia.”
Earlier on Tuesday, issues of alleged political persecutions, the 2008 killings and other human rights concerns were reportedly raised by representatives of opposition political parties and leading civil society activists at separate meetings with Mogherini held behind closed doors.