They held an extraordinary session of the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security as thousands of opposition supporters blocked streets and highways and marched through Yerevan for the fifth consecutive day. Opposition leaders pledged to keep up the pressure on the government.
Police have arrested hundreds of protesters, most of them young men, since the start of what Armenia’s leading opposition groups call a “civil disobedience” campaign. All of them were set free after spending several hours in police custody.
Andranik Kocharian, the chairman of the parliament committee, suggested that many of them evade compulsory military service or periodical call-ups of army reservists.
“We want to see [real] citizens of Armenia among the detainees, who must have their involvement in the army, if the political goal [of the opposition] is the security of Artsakh (Karabakh) and Armenia,” Kocharian said during the committee meeting.
“I am calling on Armenia’s police and the National Security Service to collect personal data of these citizens and pass them on to the Armenian Defense Ministry,” he said.
Other pro-government lawmakers as well as high-ranking law-enforcement and military officials attending the meeting backed the idea.
“It would be very good if well-trained young men … participated in the defense of our borders and the borders of Artsakh,” said Ashot Zakarian, the chief of the Armenian military police.
“We will try to pass that information on to our colleagues from the Defense Ministry who will ascertain if those individuals are of fighting age and try to draft them,” Artur Martirosian, a deputy chief of the national police, told the panel, for his part.
Human rights activists condemned Kocharian’s initiative as illegal and despicable. One of them, Artur Sakunts, insisted that the police are not allowed to share the personal data of detainees with any other state body.
“Even if there are draft dodgers they must not be caught and taken [to the military] from protest sites,” said another activist, Nina Karapetian. “This is not normal. This looks like a witch hunt.”
Opposition leaders likewise scoffed at the unprecedented instructions given to the military.
“Are there no limits to their meanness?” Ishkhan Saghatelian, the main speaker at the ongoing protests, told journalists.
“There were two disabled guys without legs speaking from this podium yesterday,” Saghatelian said, referring to participants of the 2020 war in Karabakh.
In his words, at least 40 of the protesters detained in various parts of Yerevan earlier on Thursday are also war veterans. The police reported 92 arrests.
The opposition claimed that the authorities ordered security forces to step up the use of force against its supporters because the anti-government protests are gaining momentum.
“The disproportionate force used against Armenia’s citizens testifies to one thing: Nikol has no power anymore,” said Anna Grigorian, a lawmaker from the opposition Hayastan alliance. “Real power lies in the streets.”
Hayastan and the other parliamentary opposition force, Pativ Unem, say that Pashinian must resign because he wants to cede Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The prime minister rejected the opposition demands when he spoke in the parliament on Wednesday.