Armenia: A Go-Slow Investigation Of Activist Attacks?

Sept 20 2013

September 20, 2013 – 10:39am, by Gayane Abrahamyan

Heated differences of opinion are nothing new in the South Caucasus,
but when they come with sluggish police investigations into violence
against protesters, locals expect answers. So far, in Armenia, there
have been none.

Over the past month, civil activists speaking out against Armenia’s
surprise September 3 decision to join the Russia-led Customs Union
and against past plans for a public transportation fare hike have
suffered attacks in the capital, Yerevan, that left them with numerous
injuries. One of the attacked, Haykak Arshamian, a 42-year-old project
coordinator at the Yerevan Press Club who took part in September 4
protests against the Customs Union, claims that the Yerevan rally,
attended by hundreds, “alarmed” the Armenian government and “this is
the consequence.”

“This is a warning message not only to me, but to all those who
might attempt certain activities and object to the new stage of
Armenian-Russian relations, which have brought to nothing the efforts
of building economic relations with Europe,” he told

Arshamian suffered rib fractures and heavy injuries to his jaw and
facial tissue from a September 5 attack by male youths dressed in
black. Another protester, 43-year-old Suren Saghatelian, a board member
of the Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center and project
manager for the Christian charity World Vision Armenia, received a
head injury and a nose fracture, for which he had to undergo surgery.

Officials have offered no official comments on the violence against
the Customs-Union protesters. The police launched a preliminary
investigation, but filed criminal cases only nine days later. The
action came the day after a September 12 statement from the US embassy
condemning the assaults.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed deep
concern that “the attacks appear to be a concerted effort to intimidate
the protestors, prevent them from exercising their rights to freedom
of assembly and expression, and send a chilling message to others.”

The decision to sign onto the Customs Union, a proposed trade bloc
made up of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, jeopardized Armenia’s
plans for closer ties with the European Union, and, to many locals,
was an unwelcome reminder of the country’s dependence – in military
and economic matters – on Russia. Aside from its strategic presence
in Armenia’s mining, telecommunications and transportation sectors,
the gas-rich country, a prime destination for Armenian labor migrants,
holds a 49-year lease on a base near the northern city of Gyumri,
and also supplies most of Armenia’s energy.

But the violence has not been limited to the Customs Union. In late
August, five protesters who had opposed plans for a hike in Yerevan’s
public transportation fares also were assaulted in Yerevan.

Protesters in June staged a citywide boycott that forced a reversal
on the fare policy, and summoned worries about further unrest against
the government.

To date, progress has been made in only two of the five cases
concerning the transportation activists, one of which involved a US
citizen, Babken Ter-Grigorian. Exactly two days after the embassy
statement, the alleged assailants, according to the police report,
turned themselves in and admitted their guilt.

Anti-Customs-Union activist Arshamian believes those who assaulted
him also could be identified, by looking at footage from surveillance
cameras, which scan the area where the attack took place. But he
doubts the cameras will be consulted.

“The dynamics of such cases show that they never get solved,” he

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