VoA: Rights Group Calls for Investigation into Harsh Treatment

Rights Group Calls for Investigation into Harsh Treatment of Armenian
Protesters
Melanie Sully
Vienna
Voice of America.
14 Apr 2004, 15:48 UTC

The International Helsinki Federation, a human rights body that
advises the United Nations, said harsh treatment of anti-government
protesters in Armenia is a violation of political and human rights and
that international experts should investigate the abuses.

The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
(IHF) accused authorities in Armenia of using violence against
demonstrators, and called for the end of what it says is the
authoritarian rule of President Robert Kocharian.

Demonstrations against the Kocharian government have occurred almost
daily since the beginning of the month.

The IHF says police used water cannons to break up a rally Tuesday
near the presidential palace in the capital, Yerevan.

President Kocharian insisted the measures were necessary to combat
political extremists who he said were threatening the constitutional
order.

However, IHF Director Aaron Rhodes says the oppression is likely to
lead to more confrontation and instability. “What they [the
authorities] are doing by disallowing these demonstrations, they are
really perpetuating disorder,” he said. “There are many reports of
police brutality, and including brutality to journalists and a number
of people have been beaten in the context of these demonstrations and
have wound up in hospital.”

Mr. Rhodes added that some journalists had their cameras smashed and
cell phones were disconnected. He also said that copies of a Russian
daily newspaper covering the demonstrations were stopped at the border
and that some television stations were unable to transmit for a time.

Police were reported to have raided opposition offices, smashing
computers and detaining activists.

Mr. Rhodes called for an independent investigation into such incidents
with experts from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (OSCE), of which Armenia is a member. The OSCE has criticized
recent Armenian presidential and parliamentary elections, saying they
were flawed.

The State Department has said it is concerned over the sharp
escalation in confrontation between the government and its opponents
in the Caucasus republic, once part of the Soviet Union.

Armenians Protest Near Presidential Palace

Newsday

Armenians Protest Near Presidential Palace

By AVET DEMOURIAN
Associated Press Writer

April 13, 2004, 9:15 PM EDT

YEREVAN, Armenia — Police broke up a protest of some 2,000 people outside
Armenia’s presidential palace on Tuesday, the latest in a series of
demonstrations over last year’s presidential election.

Opposition leaders vowed to keep up their public protests against President
Robert Kocharian, whose re-election a year ago spurred opposition charges of
widespread ballot violations.

“The fight against the unlawful regime will be kept up,” said an opposition
leader, Vazgen Manoukian.

Organizers said several demonstrators were injured, but their condition was
not known.

In Washington, the State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the
United States is concerned about the sharp escalation in the confrontation
between the government and the opposition.

“We call on both sides to enter into a dialogue that will lessen tension and
focus the political process on the challenges of continued political and
economic reform,” Boucher said.

He said physical assaults, raids on political party offices and widespread
arrests and detentions of opposition activists by the police “do not
contribute to creating an atmosphere conducive to political dialogue.”
Boucher added.

Kocharian considers the protests “an act of political extremism,” according
to his spokesman Ashot Kocharian.

Last April, Armenia’s Constitutional Court confirmed the results of the
presidential vote but suggested that a referendum be held within a year to
gauge the public’s confidence.
Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Armenian Dashnaks offer opposition membership of security body

Armenian Dashnaks offer opposition membership of security body

A1+ web site
12 Apr 04

April headlined “Armen Rustamyan: The Dashnaks are ready for
concessions”

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation – Dashnaktsutyun [ARFD] issued a
statement on Monday [12 April] containing a package of proposals to
the opposition.

The Dashnaks offer opposition representatives membership of the
president-affiliated Security Council headed by Defence Minister Serzh
Sarkisyan as a way out of the political turmoil in Armenia.

A member of the Dashnaktsutyun party board, Armen Rustamyan, [the
chairman of the Armenian National Assembly’s standing commission for
foreign relations] and a member of the Dashnaktsutyun parliamentary
fraction, Levon Lazarian, answered journalists’ questions.

[Journalist] Was the statement coordinated with the coalition?

[Rustamyan] This is a call for dialogue, which has already been
offered by other members of the coalition.

[Journalist] Do you view yesterday’s arrest of Republic Party member
Suren Surenyants, an attack on the head of the party’s Ararat office
and today’s detention of six opposition activists as a call for
dialogue?

[Lazarian] If the opposition has no intention to abandon its
ambitions of obtaining power, this should dictate the political
situation.

[Journalist] What will be Dashnaktsutyun’s actions in the event of
confrontation with people?

[Rustamyan] People do not want confrontation. The Dashnaks intend to
do their best to prevent confrontation. If we fail to avoid it, we
will consider other solutions.

[Journalist] Do you not think that this is a deadlock?

[Rustamyan] Disagreements are increasing and tomorrow we can grow even
more hostile. All possible efforts should be made to prevent any
clash.

[Journalist] If clashes occur, do you not think they can grow into a
civil war?

[Rustamyan] I do not think that confrontation can turn into a civil
war. There are some rational ideas in the opposition stance, but, at
the same time, there is a hard-line approach. The authorities consider
the opposition as a revolutionary force. In all countries, the
authorities’ main tool is the law. Our current constitution gives the
authorities sweeping powers, while opposition activists put themselves
above the law.

[Journalist] If the coalition rejects your proposals, then what will
be your attitude?

[Rustamyan] Possible agreement could speed up our country’s
development.

[Journalist] Might you quit the coalition in case of failure to reach
accord?

[Rustamyan] We are not tied up by the current status quo. The
Dashnaktsutyun party is eager to compromise and ready to prove that
right now.

[Journalist] Asked about the idea of appointing opposition members to
any post, the defence minister said that he found it ridiculous. How
can you imagine an opposition representative in the Security Council?

[Rustamyan] Any step will be well thought out. Today’s situation needs
concessions from at least one side.

[Journalist] In what issues are you ready for compromise?

[Rustamyan] The anticorruption campaign and constitutional reforms.

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
reported.

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

Three opposition officials arrested as suspects, prosecutor says

Three Armenian opposition officials arrested as suspects, prosecutor says

Mediamax news agency
14 Apr 04

YEREVAN

Armenian Prosecutor-General Agvan Ovsepyan said today that “if the
police, having acted in full accord with the letter and spirit of the
law, had not prevented the further development of illegal actions of
demonstrators on the night of 12-13 April, we would have to apply
severer official enforcement measures against the violators”.

Agvan Ovsepyan said this today at a meeting with the special
representative of the Council of Europe secretary-general in Armenia,
Natalya Vutova, the press service of the Prosecutor-General’s Office
told Mediamax today.

The prosecutor-general told Natalya Vutova that about 100 participants
in the events had been taken to police and questioned as witnesses,
among them [opposition MPs] Shavarsh Kocharyan, Aleksan Karapetyan,
Arshak Sadoyan and Vardan Lazarian. Agvan Ovsepyan pointed out that
after the questioning, all the four MPs had been set free. He also
said that members of the Republic Party’s political council Vagarshak
Arutyunyan and Gegam Arutyunyan, and Armenian People’s Party press
secretary Ruzanna Khachatryan had been detained as suspects.

Agvan Ovsepyan stated the readiness to regularly meet the special
representative of the Council of Europe secretary-general and provide
her with detailed information about the investigation.

Armenian foreign minister slams US statement on Yerevan events

Armenian foreign minister slams US statement on Yerevan events

Mediamax news agency
14 Apr 04

YEREVAN

Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan today warned against
superficial judgments on the internal political situation in Armenia.

The minister pointed out that “stability in Armenia has deep roots,
and the events we witness today have been created artificially and
will soon be overcome”, Mediamax reports.

Commenting on the assessment of the official representative of the US
Department of State, Richard Boucher, of the situation in Armenia,
Vardan Oskanyan said that “he has made an attempt to make a balanced
statement”.

“However, Mr Boucher has forgotten one important thing – the
opposition’s calls for violence must be clearly and sharply
condemned. If Richard Boucher’s statement had included this component,
I would have backed it,” Vardan Oskanyan said.

The official representative of the US Department of State, Richard
Boucher, said on 13 April that “the United States is concerned about
the current political situation in Armenia, particularly the sharp
escalation in confrontation between the government and the opposition”.
He also noted that “physical assaults, raids on political party
offices and widespread arrests and detentions of opposition activists
by the police do not contribute to creating an atmosphere conducive to
political dialogue”.

Armenian police acted within law at opposition rally, official says

Armenian police acted within law at opposition rally, official says

Public Television of Armenia, Yerevan
13 Apr 04

The Armenian police acted within the law when they used force against
an opposition rally in central Yerevan in the night of 12 April,
police chief Ararat Makhtesyan has said in an interview with Armenian
Public TV. Makhtesyan named the organizers of the rally and said that
the police had missed the opportunity to arrest them on the
spot. Commenting on police violence against reporters, Makhtesyan said
that it had been difficult to identify them in the chaos. Ho wever,
opposition leaders said that the sharp objects which the police said
the protesters had used to attack policemen had appeared in the
streets later and that the police used this to accuse the opposition
of plotting a coup. The following is the text of the report by
Armenian Public TV on 13 April; subheadings inserted editorially:

[Presenter] The first deputy chief of the Armenian Police, Maj-Gen
Ararat Makhtesyan, is a guest in our studio. We shall try to clarify
some details of yesterday’s events [dispersal of an opposition rally
on Yerevan’s Freedom Square].

Police acted within law

Good evening. The police’s statement said that they had used physical
force and special measures. Could you please explain how this physical
force was used and what special measures they were?

[Ararat Makhtesyan, captioned] The use of physical force and special
measures is approved by the 2001 law on the Armenian Police. It
stipulates in which cases the police has the right to use force. These
are preventing crime, arresting criminals and in case of special
events when the police has the right to use special measures. I would
like to mention these means which are available at the police munition
depot. These are tear gas, water cannons, rubber truncheons and so on.

[Presenter] Are they not hazardous to health?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] No, they are not. These means are accepted by
international norms, and using them we can stop and prevent crime
whithout harming people.

[Presenter] Mr Makhtesyan, it was reported that some participants in
the rally, among them Shavarsh Kocharyan [member of the Justice
faction] who had a rifle, were taken to police. Was the rifle legal or
illegal, is he free or was he detained?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] Firts, I must say that this was not Shavarsh
Kocharyan’s rifle. But details are being clarifed. Second, I would
like to say that nobody, even the police, have the right to take part
in peaceful rallies, marches and demonstrations with rifles. Even a
member of the National Assembly [Shavarsh Kocharyan], who knows
provisions of the law, took part in the rally with a rifle.

[Presenter] Did you know that he had a rifle or did you reveal this
after his arrest?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] We revealed that after his arrest.

[Presenter] Thank you. We have to make a short break in our interview.

Opposition leaders deny police statement

Opposition leaders gave a different assessments of the last night’s
events. The leader of the Justice bloc, Stepan Demirchyan, noted
today that the police statement which said that the rally-goers were
behaving aggressively was a lie. The leader of the National Democratic
Union, Vazgen Manukyan, said that the opposition would continue its
struggle and discuss future steps.

[Correspondent, over video of press conference] Today, Messrs Stepan
Demirchyan and Vazgen Manukyan held a press conference at the
headquarters of the Armenian People’s Party and gave their assessments
of the events which took place yesterday [12 April] on Bagramyan
Avenue. They confirmed that the police had used violence against
peaceful protesters.

[Stepan Demirchyan, captioned] The police have issued a statement
saying that the opposition was behaving aggressively, that they had
sharp objects, etc. But all these are lies. The protesters were
peaceful. Eye-witnesses saw that they were dancing and singing. We
have evidence that sharp objects appeared in the streets and on the
pavements later, after the outrageous events. The police took photos
of this and attempted to accuse the opposition of plotting a coup.

[Correspondent, over video of riots] These clips show that wood and
glass were in the protesters’ hands and that they used them during the
rally, they did not emerge after the rally, as Mr Demirchyan said.

Vazgen Manukyan also described how police behaved in similar
situations in the civilized world. Manukyan compared these events with
the 1996 events.

[Vazgen Manukyan, captioned] People attacked the National Assembly in
1996. There was shooting, people were injured. This time round, it
was a peaceful demonstration. People were singing and dancing and
waiting. There was no shooting, I did not hear shooting.

[Correspondent, over video of press conference] What will be next
steps? Opposition leaders will discuss future steps. It is supposed
that everything will change, particularly the methods of their
struggle. [Leader of the National Unity Party] Artashes Gegamyan was
expected to attend today’s press conference. But he did not turn
up. Other leaders of the opposition did not know where he was.

Tatevik Nalbandyan, Aylur.

Journalists injured

[Presenter] Mr Makhtesyan, let us continue our interview. Some
participants in the rally escaped. What measures are the police taking
to find them?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] Active organizers of the rally escaped. The police
had missed the opportunity to arrest them on the spot. These are
Artashes Gegamyan, Albert Bazeyan [chairman of the political council
of the Anrapetutyun Party], Aram Sarkisyan [ex-prime minister and
leader of the Anrapetutyun Party] and MP Smbat Ayvazyan. The
opposition leaders said that they had been peaceful, dancing and
singing, but they must know that by their actions they disrupted order
in the city. We have received many telephone calls from residents who
live in those areas, who complained about the disturbances. When they
threw stones and sharp objects, the police fulfilled its tasks in
accordance with the law.

[Presenter] Journalists were also injured during this rally, as if it
had been a sad tradition to beat journalists in Armenia. How come that
media representatives were also injured?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] The police warned the protesters that if they did
not disperse, the police would take appropriate measures.

[Presenter] But journalists had photo and video cameras and were
fulfilling their professional duty.

[Ararat Makhtesyan] It was not written on their foreheads that they
were journalists. It was difficult to identify them in that chaos. We
had no intention to use force against media representatives.

[Presenter] What scenario are the police preparing regarding the
future development of the events?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] I would like to say the following: it would be
correct for our opposition to act in accordance with civilized rules
and norms and not to violate laws. If they do violate these rules,
they will receive an appropriate response from the police.

[Presenter] Thank you.

Armenian FM tells Azeri counterpart not to make hasty statements

Armenian foreign minister tells Azeri counterpart not to make hasty
statements

Public Television of Armenia, Yerevan
14 Apr 04

[Presenter] The Armenian foreign minister [Vardan Oskanyan] will meet
his newly-appointed Azerbaijani colleague [Elmar Mammadyarov] in
Prague in a few days time. The meeting between Vardan Oskanyan and
Elmar Mammadyarov will take place on 16 April in keeping with the OSCE
Minsk Group cochairmen’s agreement. Vardan Oskanyan announced that it
is wrong to make statements now which is something that his
Azerbaijani colleague has been doing.

[Vardan Oskanyan, captioned] It hurts that the Azerbaijani foreign
minister keeps talking about Azerbaijan’s position ahead of a meeting
in Prague. This kind of tactics was tried by others before. It is
useless. It will only complicate Azerbaijan’s position.

They should understand that current international tendencies differ
from the positions declared by Azerbaijan. This will only complicate
things and create serious political problems. Statements should only
be made after the meeting.

I do not think that the Azerbaijani side should have done that.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Armenia wants to see Iran more involved in region, FM says

Armenia wants to see Iran more involved in region, foreign minister says

Azg, Yerevan
14 Apr 04

Text of Tatul Akopyan’s report in Armenian newspaper Azg on 14 April
headlined “Construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline is starting
this year”

On 12-13 April Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan, who was in
Iran on an official visit, had meetings with the secretary of Iran’s
Supreme National Security Council, Hasan Rowhani, Information Minister
Ali Yunesi, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and First Vice-President
Mohammad Reza Aref.

After the meetings Vardan Oskanyan gave a news conference. He said
that the problem of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline had been discussed
during the talks with top Iranian officials. “The authorities of
Armenia and Iran are determined to construct the gas pipeline. We hope
that during the visit by Iran’s oil minister, [Bizhan]
Namdar-Zangeneh, to Yerevan, the final version of the document will be
signed and we shall start construction this year,” Oskanyan said.

The head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s CIS department, Mehdi
Safari, said that Iran’s oil minister would visit Yerevan next
month. Safari said that the final document on construction of the gas
pipeline would be signed in Yerevan. The Armenian foreign minister
mentioned that construction of the gas pipeline would give a new
quality to Armenian-Iranian relations and would be of serious
significance for the region. “As for bilateral economic programmes, we
have discussed the problems of the Kadzharan tunnel, construction of
the power plant on the Araks [Araz] river and the transit problems
between the two countries,” Oskanyan said.

Regional problems, including Karabakh, were also discussed during the
meetings. During his meeting with the first vice-president of Iran,
Mohammad Reza Aref, Oskanyan noted that, unlike Turkey, Iran had a
balanced position in the region. “We want Iran to be more involved in
regional processes, and construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline
will increase Tehran’s role in the region,” Oskanyan said.