“We fully support the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly,” Ned Price, the U.S. State Department spokesman, told a daily press briefing in Washington on Monday. “We urge people to express their opinions in a peaceful manner.”
“We urge authorities to exercise restraint and encourage those protesting to refrain from violence and to respect the rule of law and Armenia’s democracy,” he said amid nonstop demonstrations organized by the Armenian opposition.
The peaceful protests were sparked by Pashinian’s statements on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict made after his April 6 talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev hosted by the European Union.
Addressing the parliament on April 13, Pashinian said the international community is pressing Armenia to scale back its demands on the status of Karabakh and recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. He signaled Yerevan’s intention to make such concessions to Baku.
Both the U.S. and the EU welcomed Pashinian’s statements. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised on May 2 “the vision and the courage and the flexibility” shown by the Armenian prime minister.
Speaking after talks in Washington with Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, Blinken also hailed “democratic reforms” which he said are implemented by the Armenian government.
Armenian opposition politicians are far more critical of the government’s record on human rights and democracy. Some of them have claimed that the West is turning a blind eye to its abuses for geopolitical reasons.
The organizers of the ongoing demonstrators in Yerevan and human rights activists have accused the Armenian police of using disproportionate force against protesters. Hundreds of them have been detained by riot since the country’s two main opposition alliances launched their “civil disobedience” campaign on May 1.
Law-enforcement authorities have opened more than a dozen criminal cases against participants of the protests suspected or already accused of “hooliganism.”
They arrested on Monday three opposition activists who allegedly assaulted several elderly residents of Gyumri hours before an opposition rally held there on Sunday. Opposition representatives claim that the male pensioners provoked them by swearing and throwing eggs at them.
Two of those pensioners interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service denied doing that. They insisted that the violence against them was unprovoked.
The head of the EU Delegation in Armenia, Andrea Wiktorin, signaled concerns about some of the police actions on Tuesday, saying security forces should “follow rules” and not be allowed to “operate with impunity.”
But Wiktorin also said: “There can be different perceptions of what peaceful gatherings are, and if there are provocations I would personally ask myself where does it end.”
Meanwhile, thousands of opposition supporters continued to march through various parts of Yerevan throughout the day. Ishkhan Saghatelian, the main speaker at the protests, said the opposition will continue to campaign for Pashinian’s resignation as he addressed a large crowd that again converged on the city’s France Square in the evening.
Saghatelian also appealed to foreign diplomatic missions in the country, saying that “Nikol Pashinian cannot represent Armenia and the Armenian people anymore.”