Local Armenians take part in protest

Glendale News Press
April 14, 2004

Local Armenians take part in protest

Rallies against the incumbent Armenian president planned at consulate
Thursday in Beverly Hills.

By Ryan Carter, Glendale News-Press
GLENDALE – Local Armenians will join protests against Armenia’s
president Thursday with rallies at the offices of the Consulate
General of Armenia.

In recent weeks, protests have been building inside and outside of
Yerevan, the Armenian capital, with a vocal opposition decrying the
presidency of Robert Kocharyan, who was reelected last year to a
five-year term under a cloud of charges including voter fraud and
ballot stuffing.

In recent days, thousands of protesters have reportedly taken to the
streets, marching on government buildings in Yerevan. They reportedly
had violent clashes with police as recently as Tuesday, reports
said. Several injuries – to activists and journalists – have been

As the news comes in, Armenians in Glendale and Burbank – among the
most densely populated areas of people of Armenian descent outside of
Armenia – are beginning to mobilize and join the protests from afar.

Harry Sarafian, a Burbank resident and co-chairman of the Coalition
for a Democratic Armenia, spent Tuesday trying to organize a protest
tentatively set for 1 p.m. Thursday at the Consulate General of
Armenia in Beverly Hills. Local Armenians have sent letters about the
issue to local and national representatives, he said.

“The overall feeling is that we are drifting away from democracy,”
Sarafian said. “We had it in the 1990s, but now you could call this a
dictatorship, and the middle class is being eradicated.”

At the heart of the protest is what many have called an illegitimate
presidential election last year, and an unfulfilled promise from an
ensuing Armenian high court decision that a referendum on the
president would be held this year, Sarafian said. That referendum has
not come.

Kocharyan won the disputed March 2003 election in Armenia. But votes
from citizens outside the country were overwhelmingly for challenger
Stepan Demirchyan. In Los Angeles County, for instance, 3,256
Armenians voted for Demirchyan, while the incumbent garnered 285,
according to the Consulate General’s Office.

Sarafian said protesters are demanding that the Armenian parliament
either establish a referendum or that the president resign.

“It’s finally come to a head,” said Peter Darakjian, director of the
Armenian Council of America. “From the election more than a year ago,
it’s been on a daily basis that people feel that [Kocharyan] was put
there unjustly, and that the constitutional court approved the
election unjustly.”

Darakjian lamented that outside of Yerevan, Armenia has not seen
economic reforms or improvements in public infrastructures, after
years of hope in the wake of the country’s independence in 1991.

But not all wholeheartedly agree that the country has stagnated during
Kocharyan’s regime.

“The country has come a long way,” said Pierre Chraghchian, president
of the Glendale chapter of the Armenian National Committee. “If we
compare today to four years ago, nobody can question whether the
standard has improved. Any government should be questioned all of the
time, but the ANC would differ in the approach being taken right now.”

The ANC was founded by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which is
backing Kocharyan. But the ANC officially is not a political arm, so
it has taken no position on the political situation in Armenia, said
Ardashes Kassakhian, executive director of the ANC’s western
region. He added that any violence is deplorable.

The U.S. State Department has reportedly criticized Yerevan
authorities for their crackdown on demonstrators. Authorities used
water cannons and blank grenades to disperse about 3,000 demonstrators
on Yerevan’s main thoroughfare early Tuesday, according to Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty.

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