Armenia’s radical opposition movement – Armenian National Congress (HAK), which has traditionally positioned itself as a liberal political force, has for long been promoting racism and hate-speech. A recent manifestation of such racist attitudes by the key opposition force led by Ex-President Levon Ter-Petrossian, could be seen on last Friday’s protest action staged by HAK activists in front of the General Prosecutor’s Office to voice their support for jailed oppositionists.
Admittedly, the protesters had gathered for a very just cause. They were holding posters reading “Where are the murderers of March 1?” and chanting slogans, like “We demand free independent Armenia!,” “Release political prisoners!,” “Punish killers!” and “Nikol, Nikol, keep your hands off Nikol!”
The opposition claims there are 12 political prisoners in Armenia. They may have a case, because most of those people were jailed after March 1, 2008 violence in Yerevan, following the clash of opposition supporters with the police and security forces which left 10 dead. The trials of the oppositionists were far from being fair, they were often charged based on police testimony. However, major international organizations, as well as foreign governments have so far avoided calling them political prisoners.
The immediate reason for Friday’s demonstration were the claims, that the jailed oppositionist Nikol Pashinian, editor in-chief of a radical newspaper “Haykakan Zhamanak”, has been attacked and harassed in prison.
During the protest action police surrounded the entrance of the General Prosecutor’s Office, not allowing demonstrators to approach the building.
Prominent opposition activist Vardges Gaspari, also a former prisoner, known for his scandalous behavior, provoked the police with offensive words. When the police tried to push him away, the oppositionist did his usual trick – fell down on the ground. In response, the demonstrators attacked the police, chanting slogans “Turks, Turks”, meaning to be and sound very offensive.
HAK coordinator Levon Zurabyan soothed the crowd, calling for a “civilized struggle.”
The “Turks, Turks” chant angered me however. Only days ago HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian was branding President Serzh Sargsian and the ruling Republican party as ‘fascist’, and now, there you go – using ‘Turks’ as offensive word by his very supporters.
Admittedly, HAK tried to calm down the crowd. But the reality is Levon Ter-Petrossian started this racist approach in his numerous speeches by introducing the term “Tatar-Mongols” to describe the Armenian government, calling their actions worse than what “Turks” have been doing to the Armenian nation and bringing a sharp division between Armenians from Karabakh and Armenia proper.
This is especially sad, because two other opposition forces, Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsution) and “Zharangutyun” (Heritage), both are quite nationalist in their stance, so for liberal and tolerant people like myself, there doesn’t seem to be any option in the opposition at the moment.