Police prevent opposition attempt to stage protest action


Armenian Police prevented the attempt of a group of 20-30 young opposition supporters to hold a protest-action in front of Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC) “to mark one year of the elections faked on February 19, 2008.” today.

At 14:30 about 30 young oppositionists came up to CEC building, bearing posters and three-colored flags and chanting, “Serzhik, go away!”

The demonstrators had hardly moved for 10 meters when the representatives of law enforcement bodies rushed to tear the posters and leaflets. They tried to arrest some of the demonstrators but failed due to the interference of opposition politicians – Vladimir Karapetyan, Aram Manukyan and Zaruhi Postanjyan (MP).

The opposition is planning to conduct a big rally and a march on March 1, to commemorate the 10 victims of the events of March 1, 2008. Yerevan Municipality has not authorised the rally and the march, although the opposition claims the Municipality has responded to their notification about the event after more than 72 hours defined by RA Law on “Meetings, Raalies, Protests and Demonstrations”, which would technically mean that the rally is authorised.

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RFE/RL: Belgian Goes on Hunger Strike in Armenian Capital

Hunger strikes have become a fact of life as of late – nobody seems to pay any attention to them any more. People go in an out of hunger-strikes every day. However, this one story carried by RFE/RL is certainly one of special interest – a 51-year-old citizen of Belgium, Luc Vandevale, who is married to an Armenian and is based in Armenia – working in the construction industry, has gone on an open-ended hunger strike in Yerevan, protesting ‘the presence of political prisoners’ in the country. According to RFE/RL, the Armenian wife of the Belgian hunger-striker is not affiliated with any political party or organization in Armenia. The Belgian himself claims he is a ‘pacifist’ and is not campaigning for any particular force in Armenia, but simply wants to see Armenia as a democratic country.

Luc Vandevale, a 51-year-old builder currently based in Armenia, told RFE/RL he meant his hunger strike in the Armenian capital’s central Northern Avenue as a demand for the release of political prisoners in Armenia.

“It is not acceptable to have political prisoners in a democratic country. It means it is not a democracy,” Vandevale said to RFE/RL in French. “Armenia that represents the Council of Europe must release political prisoners.”

The Belgian said he could not plan for how long he would continue his action, but added that it depended on “the state of democracy in Armenia.”

Clearly this is moral-rising for us – the people concerned with the state of democracy in Armenia. On the other hand, I hope no political dirt comes out of this story, although given the fact, that the state-propaganda have chosen to keep silent, comes to assert, that the Belgian and his wife are indeed genuinely concerned with democracy and are not affiliated with any political force in the country.

Armenian news headlines during the week

The big news at the start of the week was ex-president Robert Kocharyan’s interview given to Mediamax News Agency in response to ex-president Levon Ter-Petrossian’s speech on May 1st. Quite expectedly, Kocharyan talked complete crap, noting, that as he is not Armenia’s President anymore, he will be more unrestrained in his speech – not that he was ever restrained or anything.

Basically, while the great, educated egotist Ter-Petrossian was analyzing the situation in Armenia in nicely formulated sentences and trying to establish grounds for dialogue with current president of Armenia – Serzh Sargsyan, by laying most of the blame on Kocharyan, the Second president of Armenia chose to respond in the manner typical for his semi-educated egotistic self, calling the First president names, like “dumb” (տկարամիտ) and “deeply indecent” (խորապես անպարկեշտ), and saying, that it was the opposition who needed the blood and deaths on March 1st. [text here was edited, as the original post contained obviously biased points of views] Now, while I clearly recall at least one case, when Levon Ter-Petrossian spoke on the rallies, saying, that they will go till the end, that doesn’t mean, that human casualties can be blamed on the opposition. Moreover, in the situation, when the country disparately needs peace and reconciliation, and when the opposition has just attempted the first vague steps towards dialogue, Kocharyan’s words are rather unwelcome.

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Amid widespread public scepticism government undertakes some positive steps

Public attitude remained generally skeptical towards the efforts of President Sargsyan and PM Sargsyan to restore public trust by undertaking some positive steps over the past couple of weeks.

One of the first such steps was the dismissal of Armen Avetisyan, the chairman of the the Armenian Customs Service (ACS) for the last 8 years and the followed by a meeting of President Serzh Sargsyan with the ACS officials. On this highly publicized event President spoke about his determination to uproot corruption in the country especially in services like the Customs and Tax Inspection. While sincerity of his words is dubious, this genuine attempt by President Sargsyan to raise the government’s profile largely failed, because of rumors last week, that the import tariffs for manufactured goods have sharply risen, which was followed by a demonstration in front of the government building on Republic square. Coupled with sharp rise of natural gas prices announced two weeks ago, and then the recent reports that the gas prices will climb even higher by 2011 left no further room for optimism for middle class to poor families across the country.

Another blow to the authority of the government, internationally as well as at home, came as the resolution passed by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on April 17 called for the Armenian authorities to file an “independent, transparent and credible inquiry” into the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition supporters and “the urgent release of the persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges.” It also said that the recently enacted legal amendments which effectively banned opposition rallies should be repealed “with immediate effect.” The Strasbourg-based assembly threatened to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members if these measures are not taken before its next session due in June. In an attempt to turn the unfavorable international resolution into a tool to reach compromise at home, President Serzh Sarkisian established an ad hoc group, headed by President’s new chief of staff Hovik Abrahamyan, which is to look for solutions and present suggestions to overcome the political crises in the country. The effectiveness of this step is yet to be seen, however, it is clear, that a Presidential decree quickly releasing all, but the most serious offenders and mauradeours of March 1, would have been the most effective means to regaining public trust and appreciation of international community, rather then superficial half-measures like creation of committees head by highly discredited politicians like Hovik Abrahamyan.

On a related note, Armen Harutyunyan, the Ombudsman of Armenia – also released his report, echoing the international calls for an independent investigation and challenging the official accounts of March 1 riots, stating, in particular, that the Armenian police have so far failed to produce any evidence of firearms being used by the protesters against the police.

With no signs of the ongoing political crises in the country ceding anytime soon, all the other positive steps undertaken by the government are lost on public. Among such positive steps were undoubtedly PM Sargsyan’s announcements on Friday, that Government will start holding outgoing regular sessions in various regions of Armenia from now on, and that to enable more transparency of government actions the journalists will be allowed to follow government sessions live from the government’s Press Center and that more interest will be paid to media publications from now on, starting with the case of Syunik Governor (Marzpet) Suren Khachatryan published by Aravot Daily. Hopefully this, and more positive steps undertaken by the new government, mediocre and lacking political capital as it is, will soon render some kind of positive results and raise public confidence, otherwise we will be on a sure way to a final and total devastation, which is not something that any Armenian wants.

Photos by Tsitsernak and Azatutyun.am

Women demand fair trial


About 150 women had gathered in front of the general prosecutor’s office to demand fair trial and freedom for political prisoners. They also conveyed a letter to the prosecutor’s office.
“Today, we have not come here to celebrate our feast but we have come here to demand freedom for our husbands and men. Since they are in prisons, we cannot celebrate it,” says Heghine Harutyunyan, a participant of the action. That was included in the letter signed by the gathered women and conveyed to the general prosecutor’s office of Republic of Armenia.
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