Police in Armenia are investigating allegations by a young man who claims to have been attacked for his joke on social media about a woman blamed for spreading the new coronavirus in a western Armenian town.
Sergey Sargsyan, who owns a shop in Yerevan, alleged on Tuesday that the attackers were relatives of the woman who is known to have come from Italy and organized a family occasion attended by dozens of guests before testing positive for the coronavirus. The party took place in Echmiadzin, the town that currently accounts for more than half of Armenia’s confirmed coronavirus cases,
The woman and scores of other people suspected of having been affected due to their contacts with her are currently under quarantine.
In a video posted on March 15 Sargsyan joked that the woman whom he called the “Echmiadzin Lady” “has solved the problem of traffic congestion in Yerevan.”
The young man hinted at the fact that many Armenians, including drivers, decided to stay indoors after the number of coronavirus cases began to spike in the country on the heels of reports about the notorious Echmiadzin engagement party.
The video went viral shortly and the man claims that four hours after posting it he was attacked outside his store in Yerevan. In a Facebook post Sargsyan wriote: “Three unknown persons wearing masks approached me in front of the Say Cheese store and asked me whether I was the author of the video. Without any explanations they knocked me to the ground and began to kick and hit me. Seeing all that, my wife and members of the store personnel tried to intervene to stop the attack, but they were assailed, too. After 60 seconds of beating the unknown persons fled.”
Sargsyan said he managed to remember the license plate of the car of the attackers and immediately contacted the police, reporting the crime. “The operative information obtained by the police revealed that the persons were relatives of the ‘Echmiadzin Lady’,” the young man added.
The Armenian police confirmed to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday that they had received a crime report concerning the case. “Investigation is underway to establish the circumstances of the case,” the press service of the police said, without elaborating.
Armenian authorities do not disclose the names of the persons who have been placed under quarantine. Under the state-of-emergency rule introduced for 30 days on March 16 media are not to report names or other sensitive information related to coronavirus patients.
In several public statements made before the state of emergency was introduced Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian acknowledged that the increase in the number of coronavirus cases in Armenia was due to one patient in Echmiadzin who, he said, had neglected recommendations from authorities after arriving from Italy and participated in her son’s engagement party. Thirty-eight of the 64 coronavirus cases confirmed in Armenia as of March 17 afternoon are linked to the woman.
In the wake of the spread of the infection some social media users in Armenia have openly blamed the woman for the situation.
Since late March 15, authorities have dramatically limited the number of exits from Echmiadzin, a town with a population of some 45,000 people situated about 20 kilometers to the west of Yerevan, designating the community as a coronavirus hotbed.
Traffic congestion has been reported in the town’s streets leading to the exit points where medical screenings have been conducted on drivers and passengers, with those having fever or exhibiting other coronavirus-like symptoms turned away and asked to isolate themselves from public.
Relatives of the Echmiadzin woman or their representatives have not yet reacted to accusations of assault and beating.
Earlier this week Armenia’s Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan called unacceptable any statements “degrading the dignity of the coronavirus-affected woman from Echmiadzin.”