The Armenian branch of U.S. billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF) on Tuesday condemned a violent attack on an Armenian anti-government blogger while strongly denying responsibility for it.
OSF-Armenia also decried broader “false allegations” about its activities in the country made by individuals and groups critical of the current Armenian government.
The outspoken video blogger, Narek Malian, was confronted early on Monday by members of a youth group called Restart. A video posted on the Internet showed the Restart leader, Davit Petrosian, and several other men forcibly carrying him along a street in downtown Yerevan before being stopped by police officers. They said afterwards that they wanted to throw Malian into a trash container in response to his “slanderous” statements about Restart.
Malian, who worked until last year as an adviser to former Armenian police chief Vladimir Gasparian, blamed OSF-Armenia for the “kidnapping attempt,” saying that Restart is financed by Soros’s charity.
The OSF-Armenia director, Larisa Minasian, confirmed that Restart recently received a $20,000 grant from her organization. But she insisted that the funding was only meant to support the group’s stated efforts to make the Yerevan State University (YSU) administration more accountable to students. OSF therefore cannot bear responsibility for, let alone order, any other actions taken by Restart, said Minasian.
Restart has been campaigning for the dismissal of YSU’s long-serving rector, Aram Simonian, since last year’s “velvet revolution” in Armenia in which its members actively participated. By contrast, Malian, has vocally opposed Simonian’s sacking and accused the rector’s foes of acting on Soros’s orders.
Minasian dismissed those allegations, insisting that her organization is not involved in the government-backed efforts to oust the YSU chief.
“Any suggestion that Open Society Foundations-Armenia aims to weaken Yerevan State University or undermine Rector Aram Simonian are ludicrous, offensive, and untrue,” read a separate statement issued by OSF-Armenia.
The statement also condemned the attack on Malian, while saying that it resulted from “false allegations about our work and the work of our grantees.” “We condemn any personal attack of this kind as well as those who promote falsehoods in an attempt to divide us,” it said.
Nationalist and other groups as well as some well-known individuals opposed to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government increasingly attack OSF in their public statements. They allege that the government is furthering Soros’s secret political agenda in Armenia which they say poses a serious threat to national security and traditional Armenian values. Some of them have gone as far as to claim that Soros was behind the “velvet revolution” that brought Pashinian to power.
Minasian shrugged off those claims at a news conference in Yerevan. She noted that some former state officials now attacking the “Sorosites” had themselves received OSF grants in the past.
The OSF-Armenia statement said the Soros foundation will continue to support “civil society organizations and all Armenians working to advance sustainable, systemic reforms.”
“Strong support of Armenia's civil society is vital to the country's democratic present and future,” Soros tweeted on February 2.