Riot police used force to stop opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian and thousands of his supporters from marching towards the presidential palace in Yerevan on Tuesday at the end of daylong protests against President Serzh Sarkisian’s inauguration for a second term.
Rows of security forces armed with shields and truncheons blocked a major street in the city center leading to Sarkisian’s residence to halt the unsanctioned march against the official results of the February 18 presidential election. They pushed back the crowd led by Hovannisian but did not disperse it despite scuffling with protesters for about 20 minutes.
Still, one of Hovannisian’s close associates, Armen Martirosian, was reportedly detained on the spot. The police did not immediately confirm this.
The police warned the crowd to turn back as it approached Marshal Bagramian Avenue from nearby Liberty Square. Hovannisian defied the warning, saying that he and his supporters only want to walk past the presidential offices to the Armenian Genocide Memorial on Tsitsernakabert Hill. “This is our street, our right, our constitution. I’m moving forward,” he said.
“Don’t create tension, Mr. Hovannisian,” General Nerses Nazarian, chief of the Yerevan police, replied before the security forces confronted the protesters.
Vladimir Gasparian, head of Armenia’s national police service, arrived at the scene moments later to negotiate with Hovannisian. The two men stepped aside to speak tête-à-tête. According to Nazarian, the opposition leader was offered to take another route to Tsitsernakabert.
Andreas Ghukasian, another former presidential candidate who also joined the protest, said afterwards that Hovannisian accepted the police offer and is now headed to the genocide memorial together with some of the protesters. He told several demonstrators remaining on the Marshal Bagramian Avenue section that he will stage a sit-in there and that they can join him.
A police official, meanwhile, again warned the remaining crowd to “sober up” and disperse.
Hovannisian also tried to approach the presidential palace with a small group of mostly young supporters earlier in the day. Several of them were detained as a result. A spokesman for the national police, Armen Malkhasian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that they were taken into custody for defying police orders. Some of the opposition youths were reportedly released in the evening.
I have yet to figure out where all this is going. I’m watching and waiting and still following the hashtags #armvote13 and #barevolution on twitter but I feel like much of the luster has been lost. We live in a day and age where everything occurs promptly. I suppose I have technology to blame for my impatience and political backstabings seen around the world to blame for my mistrust. I want to see a better Armenia, a home without the threat of poverty, with people who question everything and offer their own answers. I want to see hope shining in the eyes of the children and for Armenia to be known for her inventors, the children bred on her soil who have created the most astonishing and groundbreaking inventions yet. Is this the world Raffi promises or are we to be disappointed over and over again?
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian just said at a barevolution rally on Freedom Square in Yerevan that Serge Sarkisian will be sworn in as president “over my dead body,” adding that he will start a hunger strike on the square.
“I am starting a hunger strike. I will not eat, and I will not accept deception and threats from anyone,” Hovannisian said.
“If on April 9, Sarkisian takes his fake oath on the Holy Bible, and if the Catholicos desecrates the Bible and blesses the candidate [Sarkisian] who mocks the people, then that will happen over my dead body,” he said.
Until April 9, Mr. Sarkisian should accept the demand of the overwhelming majority of the population, recognize the victory of the people, and resign, noted Hovannisian.
Hovannisian also demanded the resignation of all governors. Having appealed to the Constitutional Court to present its verdict on the presidential election, he added, “If the Constitutional Court does not correct its path, we will say goodbye to them too, and we will create our own court on the square.”
A day after President Sarkisian responded to his letter, artist and human rights activist Serj Tankian has, in turn, responded to Sarkisian, urging him to not use notions of security to distract people from injustices taking place inside Armenia. Below is Tankian’s second letter.
Dear Mr. President,
I am honored that you have responded to my letter.
I actually wasn’t expecting a response, given the harsh criticism I conveyed.
The fact that you have done so is encouraging.
But with respect, you have not answered any of my questions nor addressed any of the issues I brought up in my letter directly.
I think you have done a great job at securing Armenia’s borders and dealing with the extremely sensitive and difficult situation presented by the realities after the Karabakh war.
If you remember, I told you that in person and commended your efforts in that regard.
That said, security cannot be the scapegoat to diffuse attention from the inequities and injustices in our homeland.
Republicans in the U.S. have done that for too many elections and no one seems to buy it anymore.
I, too, feel responsible to future generations for what we leave behind.
That is the reason for my speaking out, getting involved with mining and environmental abuse in Armenia (Teghut) and encouraging further farm subsidies to render our nation more self sufficient.
Citizens across Armenia are protesting the outcome of the elections and the injustice inherent in the political establishment. Please listen to their complaints.
Listen to the striking students and don’t let the schools or police shut out their voices from our democracy. They are the future of Armenia after all.
Corruption, injustice, emigration, lawlessness and falsified elections. These ills have emptied our country of its citizens more than mines and bombs.
What are you going to do about them?
Are you going to reform the system?
Dear Mr. President, please institute the rule of law once and for all so that people feel respected in the eyes of the law and the courts. The constitution and the laws of Armenia are fine. It is their execution that is lacking. We are all tired of hearing about investors turned away, robbed of their investments in Armenia, political pressure used for personal gain, media manipulation and consolidation for political means, injustice in the courts, and on and on.
Most people feel that it will take a generational change to alter the political culture in Armenia, to rid ourselves of the overt corruption and abuse.
You can make that happen now!
In your letter you have recognized the need for that change and seem to suggest that you are willing to take substantive steps in that regard so that we don’t have to wait another 20 years for us to arrive to true freedom.
For that, your people will be eternally grateful Serzh.
An equitable nation is a strong nation, where people are not only proud of their history, but also proud of their present.
I agree that we should all work together toward a better future for Armenia.
I appreciate the warm wishes to my father. I too, send my regards and love to your family and hope to meet your grandson Serj sometime.