‘And Injustice for All’: The Recent Attacks on Activists in Armenia

Activists have been gathering in front of Yerevan's municipal building on a daily basis in peaceful protest

From The Armenian Weekly

YEREVAN—For the past 20 days, activists in Yerevan have been staging protests against corruption, inflation, controversial construction plans, and President Serzh Sarkisian’s recent decision to join the Russian-led Customs Union, among other issues. They have been met with violence, by both police officers and organized gangs on the streets. Observers claim the violent reactions have a common thread. The police say they are investigating the incidents, but activists are skeptical about the willingness of the authorities to reveal the perpetrators.

Many protestors affiliated with anti-corruption organizations have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of two municipality members—Misak Hambardzumyan, the director of Yerevan Trans, and Henrik Navasardyan, the chief of the Transport Department—and the implementation of reforms to diminish widespread corruption. The calls for resignation are the ultimate manifestation of anti-corruption and anti-inflation sentiments among the activists, who continue their peaceful protests by gathering in front of the municipality building on a daily basis.

Since the first days of the protests, during a period of two weeks between Aug. 22 and Sept. 5, there have been numerous life-threatening attacks against activists, including members of such organizations as Transparency International or the Anti-corruption Center. Many accuse the police of ignoring the reports filed by the victims, and failing to carry out proper investigations. One activist who had been detained by police on multiple occasions claimed they were acting in a systemized and predetermined manner. The attacks reportedly have some similarities: They occurred during the night. The victims reported that once they left the protest scene (the vicinity of the municipality building) and were a few streets away, a group of 5-10 men—clad in the same black uniform and armed with blackjacks—approached and asked whether they had taken part in the municipality protests. After getting a positive response, the victims were beaten for a couple of minutes.

To cite a few examples, on Sept. 5, political activists Haygag Arshamyan and Suren Saghatelyan were attacked by a group of eight men, resulting in serious injuries, including swelling and nose fractures. Another case was reported by 21-year-old Arman Aleksanyan, who was attacked and beaten, with an injury to his head, on the night of Sept. 4. Many other protestors, such as Anushavan Krikorian, Mihran Markarian, Papken Der-Krikorian, and Mikayel Donoyan, were similarly attacked and injured during recent days.

Most of the victims claim there is a direct correlation between the perpetrated attacks and the police department’s reluctance to arrest the criminals. Argishti Kiviryan, the editor of Armenia Today and a civil activist, told the press that the government in Armenia is using its two main pillars—the police and the criminal world—to break the emerging civil activism. Others have voiced their loss of trust in the police, while some have warned that they will resort to private means of self-defense.

What has perplexed activists is the fact that most of the victims say the attacks took place on streets with security cameras, leading some to believe the police are concealing the sequence of attacks. The above-mentioned municipality members are seen as the primary culprits behind the aggression and the attacks. “I have no guarantees today that while walking in the streets of Yerevan some people won’t approach me and subject me to some kind of violence. I am dealing with political persecution in terms of my professional and public activities. It can’t be defined as anything else,” said Kiviryan.

Meanwhile, tensions increased between the authorities and protesters when President Sarkisian announced Armenia’s decision to join a Russian-led economic union on Sept. 3. The news led to widespread condemnation and complaints on behalf of political parties and NGO’s who see the move as a violation of basic democratic principles. In a Sept. 6 press conference, Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) political affairs director Giro Manoyan emphasized that a government elected by its own people must not take such decisions without the consent or even the approval of its people and of parliament. In the days that followed, protesters gathered at the presidential palace to voice opposition to Armenia’s membership in the Custom’s Union.

On Sept. 6, demonstrators also gathered outside the Republican Party headquarters to protest Sarkisian’s decision, which they saw as an attempt to restore the Soviet Union. Police reportedly outnumbered the journalists and protesters on the scene. Talking to reporters, Levon Barseghyan said activists are displeased that the public was not sufficiently informed of the details of the agreement with the Custom’s Union. Clashes between police and activists continued when the latter attempted to continue their demonstration outside of the Presidential Palace. Several people were detained.

In light of the ongoing violence, Denis Krivosheev, the Europe and Central Asia deputy program director of Amnesty International, said in a press release that the Armenian government must ensure that the work of the activists is carried out without any obstacles and interference. Kriovsheev concluded that an impartial investigation must proceed in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The police force of a given government has the duty to provide protection against any aggression that may endanger the life of its citizens. Yet, we are witnessing the exact opposite in Armenia, where the police are supporting the interests of the ruling elite at the expense of all other citizens. Are we witnessing a return to the Hobbesian state of nature, where—in the absence of justice and a law enforcer—each person is obliged to resort to personal means to defend himself?


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  1. James said:

    Applause and praise to Armenians of all ages and affiliations who stand up peacefully, and at times risking their lives to do so, against the corruption and bullying that is strangling Armenia. Your voices will be heard, and the perpetrators will be shamed for their acts against humanity…if not today, then a day not far away. May the word of God give you courage and strength. I base my words on Psalms 23:5 when I tell you that He will prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies; He will honor and anoint you in their presence and serve you justice.

  2. Haygaz said:

    Եւ ահա ձեզ «Ապահով Հայաստան»ը: Հեղինակ՝ Սերժ Սարգսեան:

  3. Armenian said:

    Let’s keep this trend going– that way not only Karabagh, but all of Armenia will be inhabited by Turks and Azeris. There will be so few Armenians left in Armenia, that one will virtually be able to walk in to the peripheries and settle in completely unnoticed. The Armenian Government is so incredibly short-sighted that it’s sad that all of the Armenians of the world will have to pay for their increasingly evil and Russia-serving actions.

  4. GeorgeMardig said:

    I believe this is not because of against corruption, inflation, controversial construction plans, it is because of Armenia’s decision to join a Russian-led economic union, Western hands must be involved to destabilize Armenia

  5. Hratch said:

    As usual, we ignore the elephant in the room and chase the ant. Armenians are so eager to protest any action against Syria, yet we don’t see the gradual loss of Armenia in the process. It’s no wonder we are where we are in history.

    • James said:

      Fair point, but I think you are making some broad and unfounded generalizations…who here is ignoring the gradual loss of Armenia? And what are you doing or propose be done to avert the gradual loss of Armenia and ideally restore it’s stability and glory?

  6. mahmouzian said:

    so sarkisian went to moscow to inaugurated a new church .big deal for our people.he will be better off to stay in his office and mind the business of armenia .get rid of the crook the mafiosi most of his associated .but then how can he do that he is the head huncho.funny bunch of armenian.thoses people are.crooks that what they are.

  7. JT said:

    It’s not simply (or even at all) a matter of Russia-serving or West-serving; the predominant issue is SELF-serving– the greed of the wealthiest 1-5%, i.e. the elite echelon of Armenia, who are willing to asfixiate the rest of the country, i.e. their own people, to satisfy their thirst for more and more wealth.

    I’m no die-hard Georgian or Sahakashvili supporter, but I credit him with cleaning up the country and throwing in jail the gangsters and other violent, corrupt citizens. We are a nation of intelligent, durable people; wiith education, courage, and resolve, and unfortunately some more time, we can do the same with our country– make it somewhere where the masses can live comfortably and in peace, and where we can visit safely and without a feeling of disgust and pity.