Thousands of angry opposition supporters clashed with riot police in Yerevan on Monday as they marched to the Armenian parliament in protest against its intention to appoint former President Serzh Sarkisian as the country’s prime minister.
Security forces clad in full riot gear used batons and stun grenades against the crowd when it attempted to break through a police cordon several hundred meters away from the parliament building.
The protesters led by Nikol Pashinian, a prominent opposition figure, were stopped while marching along Marshal Bagramian Avenue from a nearby street intersection in downtown Yerevan which has been occupied by them since Friday.
The clashes broke out after senior police officers at the scene refused to let Pashinian and his supporters reach the National Assembly. Pashinian told them that he and three other parliament deputies representing his Civil Contract party “need to go to work” along with their sympathizers.
Moments after a deputy chief of Yerevan’s police department, Valeri Osipian, warned Pashinian against “provocative,” actions the crowd pushed through the first lines of riot police. But it was stopped by razor wife and a larger number of security forces standing behind it. The latter also fired stun grenades.
An RFE/RL correspondent saw two protesters injured as a result.
The police went on to warn the demonstrators to disperse or face a further use of force. But the crowd refused to walk back to the opposition tent camp. The tense standoff thus continued, with the police not immediately acting on their threats.
Pashinian suffered injuries to his hands and right eye and was rushed to hospital in a police car. Speaking to reporters at the Nairi Medical Center about an hour later, he said he cut his hands with the razor wire and a bruise under his eye was caused by a stun grenade explosion. He also made clear that "in effect" he was not beaten up by the police.
According to the hospital administration, three police officers were also hospitalized. They suffered shrapnel wounds that may have also been caused by stun grenades.
The Armenian Health Ministry reported later that 46 people required medical assistance after the clash. Six of them were police officers, it said.
Meanwhile, the national police issued a written appeal to Pashinian saying that the protests will be forcibly broken up if he continues defy their warnings.
The outspoken oppositionist remained defiant, however, as he promptly left the hospital to rejoin the protesters. “We should keep advancing our agenda,” he told the journalists at Nairi. “The police did not manage to disperse the participants of our rally. I am proud of them and call on all citizens of Armenia to take to the streets to speak out against Serzh Sarkisian’s third term.”
Pashinian led his supporters to Bagramian Avenue after spending several hours blocking traffic through most streets in downtown Yerevan. The “civil disobedience” actions began early in the morning and quickly attracted thousands of demonstrators, many of them university students.
“You are powerful, and you are going to win today,” Pashinian told them when they rallied in the city’s France Square shortly before the attempted march to the parliament building.
“Serzh Sarkisian will not be Armenia’s prime minister,” declared the 42-year-old former journalist. “The Republican Party (HHK) will not be in government.”
The parliament is scheduled to vote for a new prime minister on Tuesday. Earlier on Monday, the parliamentary factions of the ruling HHK and its junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, formally nominated Sarkisian for what will now be the country’s top government post.
Pashinian and his associates have repeatedly pledged to disrupt the parliament vote.
Pashinian’s Civil Contract is one of the three opposition parties making up the Yelk alliance, the third largest parliamentary force. The two other Yelk parties have refused to join his campaign.