Government Forcibly Breaks Up Opposition Protest


April 13, 2004

Police in Armenia used stun grenades and water cannon to disperse an
opposition protest during the early hours of April 13 in Yerevan. In
addition, authorities closed the offices of two leading opposition
political parties involved in organizing the demonstration, which
President Robert Kocharian said threatened the country’s
“constitutional order.”

Officials did not immediately disclose information concerning the
number of people hurt during the police crackdown. They also released
few details about the number of opposition political activists taken
into custody. Armenian media reports indicated that dozens of people
were severely beaten by truncheon-wielding police, who descended on
about 2,000 opposition supporters camping out on Yerevan’s main road,
Marshal Baghramian Avenue, not far from theArmenian parliament
building. According to one unofficial estimate, 30 people required
hospitalization. One individual was reportedly in serious condition,
while 14 were supposedly treated and released from area hospitals.

The assault began at about 2 am, with columns of police clad in riot
gear moving against demonstrators from at least two directions, in
what observers said was a maneuver designed to trap the
protesters. Eyewitnesses reported that authorities indiscriminately
beat protesters. Many journalists, in particular photographers and
television camera operators, became embroiled in the melee. The
Aykakan Zhamanak newspaper, for example, reported that two of its
correspondents were “badly beaten.”

Authorities insisted that protesters had provoked police. Interior
Minister Sayat Shirinian alleged that the demonstrators had ignored
warnings to disperse peacefully, and later started to move
“menacingly” towards law-enforcement officers, state television
reported. Kocharian justified the police action as necessary to combat
“political extremism.”

One of the protest organizers, Stepan Demirchian, head of the Justice
bloc and a bitter political foe of Kocharian’s, said the police action
constituted a “crime” designed to “terrorize the population.” Artashes
Geghamian — leader of the National Unity Party, and another main
protest organizer – characterized the police action on April 13 as a
“barbaric act,” the Arminfo news agency reported. Geghamian along with
several other prominent opposition figures went into hiding.

Authorities on April 13 shuttered the offices of the National Unity
Party and the Republic Party, both of them vocal critics of
Kocharian’s administration. The offices were ransacked, according to
media reports. Three opposition MPs — Shavarsh Kocharian, Aleksan
Karapetian and Arshak Sadoian, were taken into custody. According to
some reports, Kocharian (no relation to the president) was later

Foreign governments refrained from making any immediate comment on the
violence. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is scheduled to
arrive inYerevan next week, and German embassy official gave no
indication that the trip might be postponed. The Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe sought to stake out neutral ground,
indicating that both sides had engaged in action in recent days that
contributed to the violence.

The April 13 police action was the culmination of four days of
opposition protests organized with the specific aim of forcing
Kocharian’s resignation. [For additional information see the Eurasia
Insight archive]. Demirchian, Geghamian and other opposition say
Kocharian’s administration is illegitimate, alleging that he rigged
2003 presidential and parliamentary elections. [For background see the
Eurasia Insight archive].

On April 12, a protest march involving between 10,000-15,000
opposition supporters marched through central Yerevan in a largely
peaceful manner. Security forces ultimately blocked the protesters
from approaching Kocharianâ=80=99s executive offices, located on
Marshal Baghramian Avenue, and roughly 2,000 protestors decided to
camp out in central Yerevan overnight. That set the stage for the
pre-dawn violence.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS