Hundreds of people rallied in Yerevan on Thursday to mark the tenth anniversary of a deadly suppression of anti-government street protests that followed a disputed Armenian presidential held in February 2008.
The crowd led by top representatives of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) marched to the site of vicious clashes between security forces and supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition candidate in the ballot. Eight protesters and two police servicemen died in the violence.
Thousands of people barricaded themselves in downtown Yerevan on March 1, 2008 hours after riot police broke up nonstop demonstrations staged by the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition in the city’s Liberty Square in protest against alleged vote rigging. The police and interior troops tried unsuccessfully to disperse them before then President Robert Kocharian called a state of emergency and ordered Armenian army units into the capital. Scores of opposition members and supporters were arrested in the following weeks in a crackdown condemned by local and international human rights groups.
HAK leaders again charged that Kocharian rigged the election to hand over power to Serzh Sarkisian, his preferred successor, when they addressed the demonstrators in Liberty Square before the march.
Levon Zurabian, the deputy chairman of the opposition party headed by Ter-Petrosian, described the authorities’ actions in March 2008 as a “violent act of usurpation of power.” He claimed that the crackdown prevented Armenia’s Constitutional Court from invalidating the election results that gave victory to Sarkisian.
Zurabian also condemned the authorities for their failure to identify and prosecute any of the individuals personally responsible for the ten deaths. “They won’t prosecute themselves and their murderers,” said Aram Manukian, another senior HAK member.
The crowded applauded as Manukian read out the names of the ten victims. Sargis Kloyan, whose son Gor was among the protesters killed ten years ago, also gave a speech, alleging a government cover-up of the killings.
The demonstrators were escorted by riot police officers holding white carnations as they walked towards an unofficial memorial to the unrest victims. The officers joined the organizers and participants of the rally in laying flowers there.
Ter-Petrosian did not take part in the annual commemoration. The organizers gave no clear reasons for the 73-year-old ex-president’s absence.
The demonstrators also included several other opposition figures not affiliated with the HAK. One of them, Nikol Pashinian, was a key speaker at the opposition protest on March 1-2, 2008. Pashinian split from Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement after spending nearly two years in prison on charges stemming from the unrest.