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Monday, 31 March 2008

European monitoring Ago group outlines its 6-point proposal to defuse political crisis in Armenia

As you may notice, while in line with the general tone and overall recommendations made by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Ago group proposal contains some important differences and is much more critical to the authorities.

Lragir.am reports:

The CoE Ago group arrived in Armenia on March 29 with an unprecedented delegation, which includes the delegates of 9 members of the Council of Europe. Since 2005 when it was set up the Ago Group has not visited Armenia with such a big delegation. This was stated by Per Sjogren on March 31 who held a news conference together with the foreign minister of Armenia Vardan Oskanyan. [...]

The recommendations of the Ago Group consisting of 6 points are directed at this. The first point is on the persons now kept at the penitentiary of the Center who were arrested in the post-election period or after March 1 and their families are not allowed to visit them. The group learned about this during their visit to the Center penitentiary. They have brought up this issue with the minister of justice and according to Per Sjogren, were assured that today the relevant agencies will solve this humanitarian issue.

The next point of the recommendations is that they endorse the calls of all the international organization to release the persons arrested for political reasons. Per Sjogren says Armenia is a member of the CoE, and a member of the CoE cannot have prisoners for political dissent. The European diplomat says it violates the commitments assumed on CoE membership and the European conventions.

The third recommendation of the Ago group is to the ministry of justice to regularly inform them about the release of prisoners and the procedures of trial of the arrested. Generally, with regard to the political prisoners the head of the Ago Group says it is a call, and a strong call and it is clear that this issue should be addressed urgently. The European diplomat says in Armenia they were at least assured that they will make necessary moves although the details were not discussed.

The fourth recommendation is an endorsement of an impartial, national investigation of the events of March 1. Per Sjogren says the details of the investigation is not their business but says it should not be carried out by one body, such as the office of prosecutor general but should be a national, comprehensive investigation which enjoys wide confidence.

The fifth recommendation of the Ago Group is on the amendments to the law on marches, demonstrations, rallies the National Assembly passed under the emergency rule, which actually prohibit marches, demonstrations, rallies in Armenia. The head of the Ago Group regrets that the bill was passed without consulting the Venice Commission. He said, however, that the Venice Commission has studied the law and has critical assessments which they have presented to the ministry of justice. The Ago Group was assured that the government will extend those assessments to the National Assembly.

Finally, the sixth recommendation of the Ago Group is a dialogue between the government and the opposition without preconditions.

The reporters noted that earlier the CoE had advised the opposition to accept the decision of the Constitutional Court which recognized the outcome of the presidential vote. They asked the head of the Ago Group why the six recommendations do not mention anything about it. Has the approach of the CoE regarding the Constitutional Court changed, or is the absence a misunderstanding? Per Sjogren said in this connection that dialogue is important because with regard to the point mentioned by the reporters it is important to launch a dialogue. The head of the Ago Group said their recommendations should be viewed in a long-term prospect.

*/emphasis mine/

Saturday, 29 March 2008

'Sensations' of the day: Prosecutor General ‘joins’ popular/political walks in Yerevan, and there were no detained today


'Sensation No. 1': For the first time since the start of “popular walks”, there were no detained today. Perhaps, the reason for that was 'Sensation No. 2': Aghvan Hovsepyan, Prosecutor General of Armenia, ‘joined’ “popular walks” today. Well, he was seen there.

“I born in 1953, and, believe me, I walked in this city more than you,” – justified his presence in the Northern Avenue Aghvan Hovsepyan, A1+ reports. “Why, is walking prohibited? I am going home from work. Don’t I have a right to walk?”

Ironically, that’s exactly the type of questions that hundreds of people, including dozens detained during the “walks” (all later released), ask too.

*photo by A1+

Friday, 28 March 2008

Military parade in Yerevan confirmed - no, it's not a bad joke!

The news that Armenian authorities decided to stage a ‘military parade’ in Yerevan on 9 April may have seemed unbelievable - no one in his rational mind would have even thought about such possibility after what happened in Yerevan.

But this was confirmed yesterday by Seyran Shahsuvaryan, spokesman for the Ministry of Defence. He also states that no tanks will be seen during the parade, only soldiers, as if it makes the whole idea looking more acceptable.

And to confirm this news further, InfoArmenia publishes today a copy of decree on ‘military parade’ by Defence Minister (below). Interestingly, this decree was signed on the last day of ‘state of emergency’ - 20 March 2008.

Everything is wrong with this so called ‘military parade’. The idea is wrong, the place is wrong, the day is wrong. I am not discussing here the legitimacy of Serj Sargsyan presidency, let’s put that issue on side for a moment. But parade? Military parade? In Liberty sq? (which is completely inappropriate place for holding military parades under any circumstances). But come on, Armenian authorities. Do you really have much to celebrate after what you did on 1 March? I’d love to know who is the ‘beautiful mind’ behind that idea. Actually, that does not even matter now. How cynical one may be to stage a parade on the 40th day of government crackdown on opposition movement which left 8 people dead (by Armenian tradition on the 40th day the souls of the deceased are remembered). OK, the day of ‘inauguration’ coincides with that tragic date, and the authorities have to go with it ‘according to the law’. But can’t they show just a bit of modesty and tact? Can’t they see the whole inappropriateness of the ‘military parade’ thing and the ridiculousness which they put themselves in? Unbelievable!




Human Rights Watch urges Armenian government to lift ban on peaceful protest

Opposition Demonstrators Detained Under New Restrictions

(New York, March 27, 2008) – The Armenian government should lift new restrictions on freedom of assembly and cease detaining opposition supporters participating in peaceful protests, Human Rights Watch said today.

On March 25 and 26, 2008 police detained at least 60 opposition supporters in Yerevan who were peacefully demonstrating against restrictions imposed last week on public assemblies following violent clashes on March 1 between police and opposition protesters. All were released after several hours in detention, but on March 27, another 21 opposition supporters were detained and their fate remains unknown.

“The Armenian government should allow peaceful demonstrations, not ban them,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The new restrictions effectively punish peaceful demonstrators for the violence that took place on March 1.”

The Armenian National Assembly passed amendments on March 18 which allow for extensive restrictions on public gatherings following “disturbances leading to the loss of human life.” The wording is a clear reference to the events of March 1, when violence erupted between security forces and protesters after police had earlier used force to disperse demonstrators protesting alleged fraud during the February 19 presidential elections. At least eight people were killed and more than 130 injured. The restrictions on public assembly are indefinite, remaining in place until the completion of an investigation into alleged crimes committed during the disturbance.

Every evening since a three-week state of emergency was lifted on March 21, several hundred opposition activists and supporters have been organizing what they call “public walks” on Northern Avenue, a pedestrian street in the capital’s downtown. They quietly protest against the government’s new restrictions on assembly. At these “public walks,” people walk around, chat with one another, sit on public benches, and play chess or read books. On March 25, police began detaining dozens of those participating in the “public walks.”

The new amendments violate Armenia’s obligation to respect peaceful assembly. The European Convention on Human Rights, to which Armenia is a party, guarantees freedom of assembly, and governments may not place unreasonable restrictions on this right. The European Court of Human Rights has described the right to assemble peacefully as “one of the foundations of a democratic society” and has made clear on a number of occasions that individuals cannot lose their right to peaceful assembly as a result of punishable acts committed by others in the course of a demonstration.

Authorities have used the changes to the law to deny at least six requests from opposition parties to hold demonstrations at Freedom Square in downtown Yerevan. The government justifies the denials by claiming that participants in the March 1 violence may seek to participate in future demonstrations as well.

Human Rights Watch spoke with four opposition supporters detained on March 26. One said: “I was sitting on a bench on Northern Avenue and reading a book, when two uniformed police officers approached me, asking me to go with them. When I asked why, they advised me not to ask questions and to just follow them if I wanted to avoid problems. I obeyed. There were others who did not obey this command, and the police twisted their arms behind their backs and stuffed them into a car.”

Opposition supporters were taken to the Kentron police station, photographed and asked for their names and addresses. Two hours later, they were transferred to Yerevan district police stations near their homes. After several hours, detainees were taken individually to the police department chief for a brief interrogation and then released. No official charges were brought against any of the detainees.

Police officials told Larisa Alaverdian, the former Ombudsperson of Armenia and now an opposition parliamentarian from the opposition Heritage Party, that the detentions of people participating in the “public walks” are done in order to question suspected opposition party activists as part of the criminal investigation into the March 1 events. However, one released detainee told Human Rights Watch that the police chief was trying to talk him out of participating in the “public walks” on Northern Avenue.

*/emphasis mine/

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Troubled Armenia (The Economist)

Protests continued

Mar 27th 2008 YEREVAN
From The Economist print edition

Armenia is still teetering, and war clouds are gathering

IN HIS Easter service Karekin II, spiritual leader of Armenian Christians, exhorted his congregation to be “one flock, with one shepherd”. For diplomats present the prelate's words were laced with meaning. Might he be urging Armenians to rally behind the president-elect, Serzh Sarkisian?

Over a month after Mr Sarkisian, the prime minister, declared victory in the February 19th presidential election, his future is uncertain. Trouble began when thousands of protesters led by his rival, Levon Ter-Petrosian, took to the streets, claiming that Mr Sarkisian stole the vote. The protests turned bloody when eight people were killed on March 1st. Emergency rule was imposed, although it was lifted as promised on March 21st. But later that day hundreds of riot police intervened when a largely female crowd tried to hold a vigil in memory of the dead.

Opposition supporters are being arrested in droves. One activist alleged that his car was torched because he backed a pro-opposition news channel, Gala. A hastily crafted law to bar political gatherings has been approved by parliament. Such tactics are calculated to stifle opposition for good. But can they?

Some Western diplomats fret that Armenia's strife might tempt a bellicose Azerbaijan to try and regain control of the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azeris are said to be spooked by Kosovo's successful campaign for independence and fear that Nagorno-Karabakh might win international recognition. Ominously, Azerbaijan threatened to pull out of international peace talks after America, Russia and France voted against a UN resolution calling for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding region. This follows some of the deadliest border skirmishes between Azeri and Armenian forces in years.

Mr Sarkisian is due to be sworn in on April 9th. He “needs to win the confidence of the Armenian people, so that we may unite before this threat [from Azerbaijan],” says one official. The surest way to do that would be to order an independent investigation of the March 1st events, declare an amnesty for recent political detainees, and form a cabinet untainted by graft, suggests Anahit Bakshian, an opposition member of parliament.

The Americans are threatening to freeze millions of dollars in aid. Armenia should “pull itself together and get back on a democratic path,” says Dan Fried, of the State Department. Or Armenia “may go the Belarus way,” says Mrs Bakshian. Yet few believe that this is what Mr Sarkisian would choose. Although a nationalist and no liberal, he has presided over record growth and a sharp reduction in poverty. A chess player and veteran of the Karabakh war in the 1990s, Mr Sarkisian has kept close ties with Russia even as he has courted the West.

Mikhail Baghdassarov, a businessman and ally of Mr Sarkisian, believes he will usher in young Western-trained technocrats and make the market-friendly governor of the central bank, Tigran Sarkisian, prime minister. Mr Ter-Petrosian vows to keep his supporters on the streets until the election is overturned. There is a whiff of revenge about his campaign, but his fiery talk of justice and freedom has inspired Armenians. “Until this election I wasn't interested in politics. Levon gave us the feeling that we can shape our own destiny,” says a young Armenian painter. “No amount of repression can take that feeling away.”

Armenia 2008: Return to Stalinism (statement of NGOs)

27 March, 2008

For Immediate Release

Democratic reforms in Armenia resulted in constituting state terror.

In the wake of the lifting of state of emergency the Armenian authorities unleashed a new wave of violence and intimidations. Having adopted Soviet KGB methods, the Armenian police and National Security Service subject unprotected people to organized repressions.

Without any grounding or explanation, citizens are detained in broad daylight and forcibly taken to police stations, thus any occasional person walking by may fall a victim to such violence. Only in the police station is their identity revealed, their participation in March 1 rally attempted to be clarified, they are subjected to psychological pressure and intimidation.

The scale of such violence increases day by day. The Armenian authorities arbitrarily violate constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms of the people.

We urge to immediately cease terror against the people of Armenia

1. "Youth for Democracy" NGO
2. Transparency International Anti-corruption Center NGO
3. "Asparez" Journalists' Club
4. "Krtutyan Asparez" NGO
5. Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Armenian Committee NGO
6. Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Vanadzor Office
7. "Huys" NGO
8. "We Plus" NGO
9. "Victims of State Needs" NGO
10. Sksela Youth Movement

Armenian Consulate in LA: Too lazy to write a speech on Genocide?

It sounds like a good idea that Armenian Consulate in LA decided to involve University students in writing speeches on Armenian Genocide. However, as one of the recipients of their letter suggested in an email message I received today, the real reason for that may be laziness:

The Consul General of Los Angeles and staff are too lazy to write their own speeches, they are soliciting speech from University students. Here is what they are sending out.


Subject: Speech Writer Needed for Armenian Consulate

The Armenian Consulate is currently looking for an Armenian volunteer who will be able to write a speech on Genocide for the Consul General Armen Liloyan. His speech is expected to be within 5 pages and completed within 2 weeks (by April 9, 2008). If your speech is chosen you guys will get a letter of recommendation for your work.

If you are interested please contact Sahak Sargsyan.

Sahak Sargsyan
Vice-Consul
Consulate General of Armenia in LA
Email: s.sahak@mfa.am
Tel: 310-657-6102x225
Cell: 818-383-3234

Arthur Meschian - Tarorinak Mard

lyrics... audience...

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Why Dashnaktsutyun joined the coalition government?



*Thanks to N.H.!

Special blog and ‘draft legislation’ for all things 'walking'

Announcement on “daily walks”, or “political walks”, or “popular walks”, as some may call it, came out on Sunday, 23 March 2008. Since then “daily walks” around Liberty sq - which is ‘sieged’ by police - are being organised as an act of defiance against the limitations of civil liberties imposed by Armenian government.

Today it was a chess playing day (photo via A1+).


Tomorrow (26 March 2008) organisers ask people to gather with books and newspapers and from 6.30 pm start reading out loud for 15 mins their favourite passage, taking turns. Excellent idea. Loving it.

Գրքաթերթություն
Ժողովրդական զբոսանքների շրջանակներում սույն թվականի մարտի 26-ը հայտարարվում է գրքաթերթության օր: Գրքաթերթության մասնակիցները իրենց հետ բերում են կամ գիրք, կամ էլ թերթ և ժամը 18.30 ուղիղ շարքով կանգնում են Հյուսիսային պողոտայի երկայնքով ու սկսում 15 րոպեի ընթացքում բարձրաձայն կարդալ իրենց գիրքը կամ թերթը: Շարքը ձգվում է այնքան, որքան թույլ կտա մասնակիցների քանակը: Փաստորեն`Ժամը 18.30, 15 րոպեով: Գրքաթերթության վերջում մասնակիցները կարող են իրենց գիրքը կամ թերթը նվիրել իրավապահ մարմիններին, որպեսզի նրանք էլ տեղյակ լինեն, թե ինչ է իրականում տեղի ունենում Հայաստանում և մի օր հանկարծակիի չգան :)


A special blog is set up today dedicated to all things 'walking':

http://zbosanq.blogspot.com/

There you may read a 'draft proposal' of legislation regulating “Popular walks” (below, in Armenian). I am telling you - this is just fantastic. You have to read it! :) Creativity without limits!

Նախագիծ
Սույն օրենքը կարգավորում է ժողովրդական զբոսանքի հետ կապված հարաբերությունները:

Հոդված 1. Օրենքում օգտագործված հիմնական հասկացությունների սահմանումը
Ժողովրդական զբոսանք՝ մարդկանց տեղաշարժվելը մի վայրից դեպի մեկ այլ վայր:

Հոդված 2. Ընդհանուր դրույթներ
Ժողովուրդն իրավունք ունի զբոսնելու միայն սույն օրենքով նախատեսված դեպքերում:
Միջազգային իրավական ակտերը, այդ թվում՝ Մարդու իրավունքների համընդհանուր հռչակագիրը մասամբ կարող են գործել միայն օտարեկրյա քաղաքացիների, այդ թվում՝ Հայաստանում դիվանագիտական առաքելություն կատարող օտարերկրյա դիվանագետների, դիտորդների համար:
Զբոսանքի վայրը, զբոսանքի ելակետից հեռանալու առավելագույն շառավիղը, քայլելու ուղղությունը, ինչպես նաեւ զբոսանքին հատկացված ժամը ՀՀ վարչապետի ներկայացմամբ հաստատում է ՀՀ նախագահը:
Ժողովրդի զբոսանքի ժամանակ ՀՀ սահմանադրական կարգի պահպանման անվտանգությունն ապահովվում են ՀՀ Ոստիկանությունը եւ ՀՀ Ազգային անվտանգության ծառայությունը, իսկ զանգվածային զբոսանքների ընթացքում՝ նաեւ ՀՀ զինված ուժերը:
Սույն օրենքը կարող է ՀՀ ազգային ժողովի արտահերթ գիշերային նիստով տարածվել նաեւ ապրիլի 9-ի, ապրիլի 24-ի եւ զանգվածային այլ միջոցառումների վրա:

Հոդված 3. Զբոսանքի անցկացման կանոնակարգը
Զբոսանքին պետք է ներկայանալ միայնակ:
Զբոսանքի պետք է ներկայանալ միայն անձնագրով: Անձնագրի վավերականության ժամկետը պետք է երեք ամսով գերազանցի զբոսանքին մասնակցելու ժամկետը:
Երկու հոգով զբոսնելիս ՀՀ քաղաքացիները պետք է մոտներն ունենան եւ ՀՀ Ոստիկանության աշխատակցի պահանջով ներկայացնեն.
ա. ամուսնական զույգի դեպքում՝ ամուսնության վկայական, որը հաստատում է զբոսնող զույգի օրինական ամուսնական կարգավիճակը
բ. արտաամուսնական զույգի դեպքում՝ տեղեկանք ամուսնուց (կամ կնոջից)
գ. ոչ ամուսնական կապ ունեցող երկու անձանց զբոսնելու կանոնակարգը սահմանում է սպորտի, մշակույթի եւ երիտասարդության ոլորտի պետական լիազոր մարմինը:

Հոդված 4. Զբոսանքի լուսաբանումը
Չի թույլատրվում զբոսանքի ներկայանալ տեսանկարահանող կամ ձայնագրող սարքերով:
Զբոսանքի լուսաբանում լիազորված է կատարելու է միայն Հանրային Հեռուստաընկերությունը: Այլ հեռուստաընկերությունները եւ լրատվական միջոցները պետք է անփոփոխ սփռեն միայն Հանրային Հեռուստաընկերության տրամադրած նյութերը:

Հոդված 5.Զբոսանքի սահմանափակումներ
Արգելվում է զբոսնելիս որեւէ ձեւով հաղորդակցվել այլ զբոսնողների հետ, այդ թվում՝ բարեւել, ժպտալ, աչքով անել, հարց տալ, պատասխանել, զրուցել, քննարկել:
Արգելվում է զբոսնելիս ձեռքում պահած ունենալ նկարներ, կոչեր, զույգ թվով ծաղիկներ, մոմեր եւ ՀՀ սահմանադրական կարգը խախտելուն միտված այլ պարագաներ:
Զբոսնելիս արգելվում է կանգ առնել ավելի, քան հինգ րոպեի ընթացքում:
Զբոսնելիս արգելվում է օգտվել սրճարանների եւ հանգստի ու զվարճանքի այլ վայրերի տրամադրած ծառայություններից օգտվել ավելի, քան տաս րոպեի ընթացքում:

Հոդված 6. Օրենքի ուժի մեջ մտնելը
Օրենքը ուժի մեջ է մտնում սկսած հրապարակման հաջորդ օրվանից:

Independent MP Viktor Dallakyan: a proposal to defuse political crisis in Armenia

Independent MP Viktor Dallakyan presented his proposal today, which combines elements of EU/PACE and Armenian cultural representatives’ proposals:

- parliamentary commission to investigate events of 1 March [I personally would not trust commission within the current parliament and would prefer independent one]

- make steps towards allowing work of independent/pro-opposition A1+ and Noyan Tapan TV stations

- allow opposition representatives to voice their opinion via Public TV

- amnesty for those detained/arrested not involved in direct violence [I would go for their release by a court decision and not an “amnesty”]

- prepare for parliamentary elections in a year time, after necessary institutional and legislative changes

A sound proposal, overall.

Diary (parts 1 - 5): 1 March 2008, Yerevan, Armenia

A MUST SEE!

During the last month (and continuing! - before and after), Public TV of Armenia has presented one-sided government version of events. Today, to present its side of the story, Armenian opposition started releasing a "Diary" of events enfolding on 1 March in Yerevan.

What we need is an independent investigation of events by some who will have trust and assurances from both sides so that their conclusion would be accepted however uncomfortable it may be. However, so far this remains like a wishful thinking. In the meantime, it is essential that Armenian public have a chance to view different sides of the story. I wish Public TV would broadcast this video too to balance their coverage. Of course, it won't happen, for now at least. So till then, here is what opposition has to say.

Part 1



Part 2



Part 3



Part 4



Part 5 - final (ADULTS ONLY!)

Day of mourning - 9 April 2008, Yerevan, Armenia

By Armenian tradition the souls of the deceased are remembered on the 40th day after their death. For those killed in the protests, that will be on April 9 - the day that Mr Sargsian is inaugurated as President.

The Times


P.S. I recommend reading The Times article in full - at last, proper reporting of the situation in Armenia by one of the most respected British newspapers. Follow the link above or comments section below.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Open Letter from the Wives, Mothers, and Sisters of Victims of Political Persecution in Connection with the 2008 Armenian Presidential Election

We are writing this letter as the wives, mothers, and sisters of those citizens of the Republic of Armenia who have been subjected to illegal measures by the authorities in connection with the February 19, 2008 presidential election, during the pre-election process, at the time of the election, and in the days since then.

These measures include violence, brutality, kidnapping, unlawful detention, home searches without any legal justification accompanied by extensive damage to property, and the arrests of our husbands, sons, and brothers, almost all on similar charges: “Criminal actions against the state with the aim of overthrowing the government.”

We believe that these arrests have been purely political in nature, given that the detainees are members of political parties, proxies of opposition candidates, or participants in the peaceful demonstrations held by the democratic opposition.

The measures taken by the authorities are in contradiction to national law and are incompatible with international norms and obligations undertaken by the Armenian Government. They are acts of political persecution aimed at destroying democratic opposition, and as such represent a gross violation of human rights.

We call upon the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the United States of America to organize an independent and impartial investigation of all of the cases connected with the February 19 presidential election, including both the killing of innocent people and the arrests of our family members. Finally, we note with alarm that these arrests are continuing to this day.

With respect and in hope of support,

Melissa Brown
Wife of Alexander Arzoumanian, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, former Representative to the United Nations, director of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Central Campaign Headquarters, arrested on March 10, 2008.

Anna Hakobyan
Wife of Nikol Pashinyan, Editor-in Chief of Haykakan Zhamanak, representative of the Aylantrank Civil Initiative, member of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Central Campaign Headquarters, in hiding since March 1, 2008.

Marine Harutyunyan
Wife of Grigor Voskerchyan, former deputy head of the National Security Service, head of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Abovyan Campaign Headquarters, arrested on March 8, 2008.

Lusine Hayrapetyan
Wife of Suren Surenyants, Republic Party board member, arrested on February 25, 2008.

Mariam Karapetyan
Mother of Karapet Rubinyan, former Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, former Chief of Staff of the President, deputy head of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Shengavit District Campaign Headquarters, arrested on March 1, 2008

Anahit Kirakosyan
Wife of Ashot Manukyan, head of the Armenian National Movement Lori branch, head of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Lori Campaign Headquarters, arrested on March 1, 2008.

Anush Mesropyan
Wife of Sasun Mikaelyan, National Assembly Deputy, member of the Spirit Challenge NGO, arrested on March 12, 2008.

Nelli Mnatsakanyan
Wife of Grigor Harutyunyan, political secretary of the People’s Party of Armenia, in hiding since March 1, 2008.

Anush Petrosyan
Wife of Masis Ayvazyan, Armenian National Movement board member, Levon Ter-Petrossian Campaign Headquarters regional coordinator, arrested on March 1, 2008.

Tamara Piloyan
Wife of Mushegh Saghatelyan, member of the Spirit Challenge NGO, former head of the Interior Ministry Detention Center Department, head of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Ani Campaign Headquarters, arrested on March 1, 2008.

Marine Poghosyan
Wife of Aram Sargsyan, Chairman of the Republic Party, member of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Central Campaign Headquarters, in hiding since March 1, 2008.

Dzovinar Samsonyan
Wife of Hovhannes Ghazaryan, Armenian National Movement board member, Levon Ter-Petrossian Campaign Headquarters regional coordinator, arrested on March 1, 2008.

Aida Sardaryan
Wife of Aram Manukyan, Armenian National Movement board member, head of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Arabkir District Campaign Headquarters, in hiding since March 1, 2008.

Ruzanna Sargsyan
Wife of Smbat Ayvazyan, Republic Party board member, former Minister of State Income, Levon Ter-Petrossian Campaign Headquarters regional coordinator, arrested on February 24, 2008.

Susanna Sargsyan
Wife of Davit Matevosyan, former Meghri Police Chief, member of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Central Campaign Headquarters, arrested on March 1, 2008.

Laura Selvyan
Wife of Gagik Jhangiryan, former Deputy Prosecutor General, former Military Prosecutor, arrested on February 23, 2008.

Lilit Simonyan
Wife of Levik Khachatryan, Armenian National Movement board member, Levon Ter-Petrossian Campaign Headquarters regional coordinator, arrested on March 1, 2008.

Hasmik Sinanyan
Wife of Vahagn Hayotsyan, Armenian National Movement executive secretary, Levon Ter-Petrossian Campaign Headquarters regional coordinator, arrested on March 1, 2008.

Ruzanna Sukiasyan
Wife of Khachatur Sukiasyan, National Assembly Deputy, head of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Yerevan Campaign Headquarters, in hiding since March 1, 2008.

Tamara Tapaltsyan
Mother of Aram Karapetyan, Chairman of the New Times Party, arrested on February 24, 2008.

Inga Torosyan
Wife of Davit Arakelyan, head of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Kentron District Campaign Headquarters, arrested on March 1, 2008.

Edita Yeghoyan
Wife of Ararat Zurabyan, Chairman of the Armenian National Movement, former Head of the Kentron District Administration, member of the Levon Ter-Petrossian Central Campaign Headquarters, arrested on March 10, 2008.

Tsoghik Zakaryan
Wife of Yerjanik Abgaryan, Armenian National Movement board member, former head of RA Customs Service, Levon Ter-Petrossian Campaign Headquarters regional coordinator, arrested on March 3, 2008.

March 18, 2008

*source: Hetq Online

Threat of terrorism in Yerevan? Only political dialogue may avert a devastating turn of events in Armenia

This warning by ex-candidate for Armenian presidency Arman Melikyan voiced on Friday passed without an attention it deserves.

Arman Melikyan considers the situation in Armenia “very worrying”. He believes that the kind of pressure put by the authorities upon opposition without allowing for counteraction will lead to resistance stepping into non-legal means. “This situation will give a birth to terrorism. I am warning about this today. Unless there is political dialogue between parties involved in this stand-off, no one should be surprised if we witness explosions, political killings in Yerevan; we should not turn a blind eye on this.”

He dismissed newly formed governmental coalition’s capability to defuse political crisis in Armenia, as the sides of that coalition are essentially the same parties who were in power over the last 10 years. Instead of solving the problems, this type of coalitions under the current circumstances may transform into additional means of repressions.

There is only seven-member opposition group (Heritage party) in our parliament, and the authorities are doing whatever possible to pressurise and limit their abilities, says Melikyan.

I completely agree with him. Continuous pressures put by the authorities upon political decent, serious limits on possibilities to exercise political will and rights within the legal framework leads to radicalisation of our society and may result in formation of groups or initiatives (if have not already) which could see no other way but non-legal methods to exercise civil rights and achieve changes.

It is still not too late to avert this devastating turn of events. I urge Armenian authorities to follow Melikyan’s and others’ calls. The authorities have to bring back civil liberties, release political prisoners and initiate serious dialogue with the opposition – real opposition, not the one which suites authorities. Today there is still chance to avoid the worst, tomorrow it may be too late.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

To regain our “Right to walk”: “Authorities continue detention of our symbol of freedom – Liberty sq”

‘Daily walks’ - from 6pm, Yerevan, Liberty sq

Statement by “National awakening” coalition of NGOs
(in Armenian)


ՀԱՅՏԱՐԱՐՈՒԹՅՈՒՆ

Մարտ 23, 2008

Հարգելի հայրենակիցներ,

Մարտի 21-ին մենք նախատեսել էինք մոմավառություն անցկացնել Ազատության հրապարակում ի հիշատակ վարչախմբի կողմից սանձազերծված մարտիմեկյան բռնությունների զոհերի։ Սակայն իշխանությունները նորից ցույց տվեցին իրենց դեմքը։ Ժողովրդի փորձերը նշել այդ օր որպես ազգային սգո օր /մի բան, որ հանցանք գործած իշխանությունը անամոթաբար հրաժարվեց անել/ խափանվեցին բազմահազար ոսիկանական զորքի կողմից։

Այսուհետ պարզ է, որ իշխանությունները իրականում չեն հանել արտակարգ դրությունը եւ շարունակում են կապանքի տակ պահել մեր ազատության խորհրդանիշը՝ Ազատության հրապարակը։ Որպես մեր երկրում ազատության եւ ժողովրդավարության վերականգնման առաջին քայլ մենք պետք է վերականգնենք մեր սիրված հրապարակը ազատորեն այցելելու եւ այնտեղ զբոսնելու մեր իրավունքը։

Մենք միանում ենք ժողովրդի որոշմանը ամեն օր ժամը 18.00-ից սկսած ժողովրդական զբոսանք անցկացնել Ազատության հրապարակում, որտեղ հնարավոր կլինի հանդիպել նաեւ ժողովրդականություն վայելող քաղաքական գործիչների, որոնց առջեւ փակված են վարչախմբին սպասարկող հեռուստատեսությունների դռները։

Թող վարչախումբը նորից ոստիկաններով փակի մեր հրապարակը, մենք կգանք մյուս օրը։ Սակայն մենք ամբողջ աշխարհին կապացուցենք, որ այս իշխանությունները միակ հենքը՝ սվիններն են։ Մենք ավելի համառ կլինենք մեր խաղաղ ճնշման իրականացման մեջ, քան ռեպրեսիվ մեքենան իր անպտուղ զորաշարժերով եւ բռնի գործողություններով։ Իրականացնելով մեր հրապարակներում զբոսնելու իրավունքր, որն արգելված չէ անգամ իշխող ռեժիմի կողմից վերջերս ընդունված հակասահմանադրական օրենքներով, մենք հերթական կարեւոր քայլը կանենք մեր ազատությունների վերականգնման ճանապարհին:

«Ազգային զարթոնք» հասարակական կազմակերպությունների միություն

*photo - via Zhamanak newspaper

Picture of the Day


Dali

Friday, 21 March 2008

Armenia: "Mute" revolution?







*video - via A1+; photos - via IA Regnum; text - by John Hughes, ArmeniaNow



In a mass display of defiant quiet, several thousands walked on Yerevan city center sidewalks today, shouting a message by saying nothing.

A ban on public demonstration that has existed since March 1, when bloody and deadly clashes with law enforcement resulted in the deaths of 8, injury of at least 131 and the arrests of more than 100 was lifted today. But with today’s “silent protest” Armenia’s opposition demonstrated that while the State of Emergency no longer exists, the state of unrest is yet significant.

Responding to a call broadcast via internet, teenagers to grannies left their homes and went into the streets, mindful of March 1 (see related articles) and the violence that came about the last time they tried to voice their discontent.

There was no voice today. No shouts of either “Lev-on” or “Free-dom” that had identified the movement since the disputed February 19 presidential election. Instead, obedient to the internet message appeal for order they marched – strolled really – from Liberty Square to Myasnikyan statue, the polar points of disturbance three weeks ago.

While walking separately they clearly walked united in front of restrained riot police as hundreds stood in an unlinked human chain along the protest pathway stretching some three-quarters of a mile. Some held photographs of oppositionists who have been arrested in the government crackdown, sparked by the violence that itself spilled from law enforcement intervention of what had been 10 days of peaceful protests. Some held political posters; some candles. Armine Hovannisian, wife of Heritage Party leader Raffi K. Hovannisian carried yellow daffodils. A few youth had photocopied crosshairs on their chest – a gesture that lost some of its meaning when jackets were pulled on against the spring chill.

And all were conspicuously under the lens of government security forces who had cameramen posted along the route.

Leaderless, they walked nonetheless purposefully under the capital’s overcast skies and through dust storms stirred at the many large construction sites along the way. Conversations were kept to polite volume in a crowd hardly bearing evidence of political might, but rather resembling the vigilant throngs that mark Genocide Memorial Day each April 24 here.

Participants had been encouraged to wear something black for the event – a redundancy hardly making them stick out on these streetss. And if by chance Armenia might distinguish itself among the themed trend of “rose” and “orange” rebellions of the regional neighborhood, this could considerably be seen as the “Mute” revolution.

If further such civil action is to be organized, it no doubt will face gathering resistance. A new law passed this week by National Assembly, and to take effect March 28, effectively declares any such gathering illegal (and punishable) as part of President Robert Kocharyan’s promise to “restore stability” as part of his legacy to incoming president Serzh Sargsyan, who takes office April 9.

Emphasizing his resolve to face down opposition, Kocharyan, according to state press services on Thursday, said that he will “initiate a legislative bill that would enforce tougher norms for protection of the statehood's foundations.”

Localised incidents during otherwise peaceful protest action



There are reports on occasional arguments and localised incidents between police and protesters during today’s “silent protest action”, including an incident of police beating a young guy, and detaining a protester by using electroshock. However, there were no major incidents or clashes, and overall the action was peaceful.


*photos via A1+, RFE/RL and E-channel

Yerevan, Armenia, 21 March 2008 - despite end of 'state of emergency', Liberty sq remains under police 'siege' (video)

First video to come out from today's protest action (via A1+)



...candles
Among protesters - wife of Armenia's first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan.

*photos - via A1+

Journalist's car put on fire in Gyumri, Armenia



Car driven by Gyumri's prominent journalist Levon Barseghyan of Asparez jounalists' club was set on fire tonight. Barseghyan and Asparez club are known as the most vocal advocates of media freedom in Armenia's second city Gyumri, and they coordinate support group for independent GALA TV station which faces closure for 'technical, financial' reasons (read - for its stance in broadcasting opposition views).

GALA TV and Asparez journalists's club have been under continuous targeted verbal attacks (full with hate) from Gyumri mayor.

For details of this story - read Hetq Online and Asparez (in Armenian)

* photos - via Asparez journalists' club

In the meantime, GALA TV still needs your support.

For transfers
“UNIBANK” CJSC GYUMRI BRANCH
Beneficiary: Khachatryan Vahan
Account: 2410 3101 2610

For transfers in USD
Intermediary Bank:
Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, New York
SWIFT: BKTR US 33
Beneficiary’s bank:
UNIBANK, Armenia, SWIFT: UNIJ AM 22
Acc: 0443 7920
“UNIBANK” CJSC GYUMRI BRANCH
Beneficiary: Khachatryan Vahan
Account: 2410 3111 2618

Karabakhi reporter recounts 1st March events in Yerevan

On March 2, opposition daily newspaper reporter Kristine Khanumyan opened her article with the following sentences: “On the first day of spring the authorities congratulated people with truncheons and electroshock devices. From now on for me, March 1 is the day of truncheons and electroshock devices. People will not forget that.”

The 24-year-old journalist, a native of Karabakh, says that the first shots reminded her of the night sky of Karabakh capital Stepanakert under shelling.

“For me all that is perhaps déjà vu. I had lived through those scenes, but I didn’t imagine that I could deserve such a fate in my native country years later -- that my country’s troops or police could shoot at me,” Kristine says. […]

“There was a little bit of despair inside me and a bit of anger when I heard indecent words against Karabakhis from people. But not against those people who were saying that. All this is the consequence of the policy carried out by our authorities. I understood, I said I was a Karabakhi, they saw me among their ranks. And I know many Karabakhis who participated in the rallies if they came to town on business. I am not the only one,” she says.

The reporter quotes from memory the words of a high-ranking police officer addressed to her: “Go to a safer place.”

“I simply said to him that I spent my childhood in the basements of Stepanakert under shelling, no one was telling me to go to a safe place. And now I am told to go, it is dangerous there, here in my country,” she says, adding: “The sky was bright with fired shots.”

*source: ArmeniaNow

Thursday, 20 March 2008

A1+ is back online!

It's past midnight Yerevan time, 'state of emergency' is formally over!

And as the first sign of it - A1+ news site is back online. I expect other sites to follow suite shortly.

http://www.a1plus.am

Yerevan, 21 March 2008 - SILENT PROTEST ACTION (details in English)

On Monday, I posted news on SILENT PROTEST ACTION to be held on 21 March 2008 in Yerevan (the day, when as we 'promised', the 'state of emergency' rules will no longer be in force). The link I provided back then contains details in Armenian.



Below is the "invitation" and "guidelines" in English, as well as "an urgent call" to people in Europe, the US and Canada to support the action. I received this today via organisers and activists of the event.

An urgent call to support

the silent protest in Yerevan, Armenia

on Friday, March 21, 5pm-7pm


The announcement outlined below has been extended to the citizens of the republic of Armenia, the vast majority of which continue to live in a state of terror, violence, political persecution, intimidation and total information black-out. On Friday, March 21, 2008, many will form a silent, human chain from 5pm to 7pm to focus the attention of the international community, yet again, on their plight

The organizers have taken every conceivable precaution to prevent the authorities from mislabeling their silent protest as mass riots and provoking confrontations.

As indicated in the guidelines below, the sole purpose of the Silent Protest is to mourn and to remember those who have fallen prey to a totalitarian and sick regime, and to do so with respect and dignity.

It is the duty of all us to bow our heads before such courage and above all, to support their efforts to regain their human dignity. After all, none of us in Europe, the US and Canada would tolerate a life without dignity and civil liberties for a single moment.

Time is of the essence. Express your views to the Foreign ministry, the Prime Minister's Office and the President's office of Armenia AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Invitation to participate in a human chain of silent protest

All the citizens of the Republic of Armenia willing to express their indignation against the brutalities and massacres organized by the authorities of Armenia in the morning and evening of March 1st, those who decry the unconscionable political persecutions, arrests and trials of peaceful demonstrators that continue to this day, and those who mourn the memory of all victims of the events of the March 1st, are invited to participate in a Silent Protest on Friday, March 21, from 5pm to7pm.

Protesters will stand in silence, in a single row. The line will extend from Liberty Square (where the carnage of March 1 against peaceful and unsuspecting demonstrators was launched) through Northern Avenue, Abovyan Street, Republic Square, Vazgen Sargsyan Street and Italy Street. In the latter section the line will be situated on the walkway facing the Prosecutor General's Office.

Participants are urged to adhere to the following strict guidelines:

1. Participants will stand only and only on those parts of the path that are free of vehicular traffic, and on sidewalks, so as not to disrupt the normal flow of traffic in the city;

2. Participants will stand approximately 1meter apart from each other (approximately the span of extended arms);

3. Participants will stand in a single row;

4. If the number of participants exceeds the number of people that can be accommodated in a single row, the group surpassing that number will stand on the opposing sidewalk under the same guidelines to prevent traffic congestions and, to prevent the authorities from condemning it as a mass gathering;

5. In those areas where no opposite sidewalks exist, participants will not form a second row.

To express your protest, it is advised to have with you:

1. The photograph or photographs of any or some political prisoners (with their names and last names displayed) and hold them visibly in your hands or attached to your backs. If possible, print a few photographs of political prisoners and give them to the participant near you. Some photographs can be downloaded from the following website: http://marti21.blogspot.com/

2. You may tie black ribbons on your arms in memory of the victims of the March 1;

3. You may carry candles, placed in glasses (not to be blown out by the wind) in memory of the victims of March 1. And, you may simply wear a black outfit in memory of the victims of March 1.

ABOVE ALL,

1. Please maintain maximum and strict order;
2. Do not be swayed by any provocation;
3. If you feel impending danger and threat of the use of force, please leave your location in the row (you may return to your location when the threat is gone)
4. Answer questions posed by the police, the public, journalists and others without agitation and with calm.

For questions and suggestions please contact: marti.qsanmek@gmail.com

"My nightmares are real": protect children of Darfur

Sunday 13 April 2008 - Global Day for Darfur


London

UK organisers of the Day for Darfur are planning a major demonstration outside the Sudanese Embassy, starting at 12.30pm on 13th April.
/click on the flyer, above/



*my previous posts (Armenian posters made in BEM http://www.bem.am/):

Armenia says Stop Darfur

Global Day For Darfur

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Armenia: post-election witch-hunt

Eurasia Daily Monitor
The Jamestown Foundation

Armenia’s embattled leadership has unleashed an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition following the bloody suppression of street protests against the official results of last month’s disputed presidential election. More than a hundred supporters of the main opposition presidential candidate, former president Levon Ter-Petrosian, have been arrested and are facing lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in what the ruling regime calls an attempted coup d’etat. The crackdown, aggravated by a virtual ban on independent news reporting, intensified last week despite the West’s calls for dialogue between the Armenian government and the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition.

The mass arrests, increasingly resembling a witch-hunt, stem from the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition supporters that left at least eight people dead.

[…] Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian indicated on March 7 that the coup case may be complemented by an Orwellian charge of “psychological sabotage” against the country’s population (RFE/RL Armenia Report, March 7). He said Ter-Petrosian resorted to mass hypnosis and other “psychological tricks” to attract a large following after his dramatic political comeback in September 2007.

The authorities continue to justify the use of lethal force against the protesters, stressing the fact that one security officer was killed and dozens wounded on March 1. But they have yet to clearly explain the circumstances of the deaths of at least seven protesters. The official line is that security forces fired gunshots only into the air. However, amateur video clips of the deadly violence posted on the Internet last week suggest the opposite. One clip shows several heavily armed men in special police uniforms firing what appear to be live rounds in the direction of the demonstrators. In another, more harrowing, footage, pieces of a human brain and skull can be seen strewn in a pool of blood.

[…] Western pressure may still not be strong enough, but it should make it harder for the regime to arrest Ter-Petrosian and/or extend the state of emergency for another 20 days in order to forestall opposition demonstrations before Sarkisian’s inauguration, which is scheduled for April 9. Ter-Petrosian made it clear at a March 11 news conference that he will continue to challenge the official vote results and stage more street protests. It is not clear, however, whether he will do that with virtually all of his close associates in jail or on the run or will wait for the dust to settle. In any case, Ter-Petrosian can count on the unwavering backing of tens of thousands of angry Armenians who rallied in Yerevan to back his demands for a re-run of the presidential election.

Many of them are young people who have previously shown little interest in politics and barely knew their revered leader just a few months ago. They are the ones who set up barricades and took on riot police on March 1. The government repression may have quelled their spontaneous rebellion, but it did nothing to address the underlying causes of anger that drove them to the streets in the first place.

A shameful stance of leading Armenian American organisations

When I received a copy of this statement via email, my first reaction was – no, it can’t be true. Only few days ago Armenian Assembly of America published its statement emphasizing the importance of democratic principles and criticising Kocharyan administration for restricting civil liberties of Armenian citizens.

What could have changed now? How could Armenian Assembly join this shameful declaration of hypocrisy? But then I checked their website, and it is official – the statement is published there too.

A disgraceful statement, to say the least. I do not care much about involvement with this “statement” of Armenian church related organisations. But Armenian Assembly of America, Armenian National Committee of Armenia, and AGBU? To say disappointing would be great understatement.

Where is your statement against forceful dispersion of peaceful protesters in Liberty sq by special police forces? Where is your statement about urging independent inquiry into the evidence of shooting at protesters by special police forces? Where is your condemnation of restricting civil liberties in Armenia? Where is your statement condemning massive scale political persecutions in Armenia?.. All you could see from 1 March events in Yerevan is “looting” and “vandalism”? Your subsequent words on “justice”, “freedom” and “equal opportunity” are nothing but empty statements.

A person who initially forwarded me this “statement” says “it is about time these organizations realize they do not represent the majority of Armenian Americans, and what they are doing is harming the future of Armenia.”

If you are wondering, why Armenian American organisations support such undemocratic actions carried out by Armenian authorities, ask them yourself.

Armenian Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny's
office # (202) 393-3434 x 228
Armenian Assembly Western Region (626) 577-0025
Armenian National Committee (202) 775-1918
Armenian National Committee (818) 500-1918 Glendale office
AGBU Chairman Mr. Vahe Imasdounian (562) 715-3624,
AGBU Office # (626) 794-7942 (212) 319-6383
Western Diocese (818) 558-7474 & (212) 686-0710
Western Prelacy (818) 248-7737 & (212) 689-7810
***

Joint Statement of the Armenian Assembly of America, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Armenian National Committee of America, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern/Western) and the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America (Eastern/ Western) on Recent Events in Armenia

As leading Armenian-American organizations, we stand in solidarity with the state and the people of Armenia as the nation confronts the current political crisis.

We are deeply saddened by the violence, divisiveness, and deaths during the post-electoral street unrest in the capital and extend our heartfelt sympathies to all the families of the victims. We condemn all violent acts, including assaults, vandalism, and looting, and expect, consistent with due process of law, that the organizers and perpetrators will be brought to justice.

We urge all parties to work peacefully within Armenia's civic and legal structures to address their outstanding differences and restore Armenia's political environment to a state of normalcy in as timely and responsible a manner as possible. We join with all Armenians in reaffirming our people's common commitment to the security of Armenia and Artsakh in a challenging and often dangerous region, and to cooperate toward our shared aim of strengthening an open and democratic Armenian homeland, based upon the rule of law, social and economic justice, freedom of expression and the media, and equal opportunity for all.

As Armenian-Americans, proud and vital partners in the future of the Armenian nation, we are ready to cooperate with the newly-elected president and the government. We remain committed to doing our part to serve our homeland and the Armenian Nation as we have done throughout our long history. Armenia will continue to inspire and sustain generations of Armenians who have lived, as we do today, beyond her borders.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

More evidence of police brutality in Armenia: ‘There Was Blood All Over Police Station’


RFE/RL

Robert Chakhoyan endured hours of beating in Armenian police custody but he does not have much of a grudge against his tormentors. He is remarkably composed when describing scenes of torture and pools of blood at a police station in Yerevan where he and scores of other supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian were taken on March 1.

“Police officers are also human beings,” explains the 23-year-old university student. “Let them come to their senses and think about who they are supporting. They must not carry out every government order.”

Chakhoyan and his wife Naira were among more than 2,000 Ter-Petrosian supporters camped out in Yerevan’s Liberty Square since February 20, the day after Armenia’s disputed presidential election. Hundreds and possibly thousands of riot police, interior troops and other security units surrounded the tent camp at around of 6:30 a.m. on March 1. The square outside the city’s massive Opera House was cleared within 10-15 minutes. Overwhelmed by the onslaught, the protesters chaotically fled the scene only to be ambushed and attacked by more security forces deployed in adjacent streets. Eyewitnesses say the protesters were chased even hundreds of meters away from the square, suggesting that the purpose of the security operation was not only to disperse participants of the 11-day vigil but to beat, intimidate and arrest as many of them as possible.

The violence in and outside Liberty Square essentially set the stage for a much bloodier drama that unfolded in another location in the city center, a major street intersection outside the Yerevan municipality and the French and Russian embassies, just hours later. Hundreds of angry people began gathering there later in the morning. Riot police tried to disperse them as well but met with fierce resistance and left the scene in the afternoon as the hardcore Ter-Petrosian supporters were joined by thousands of other Armenians furious with the police actions.

Witness accounts of police brutality might explain the ferocity with which they fought back a late-night police onslaught from one of the streets leading to the mayor’s office. Braving automatic gunfire that left at least seven of their comrades dead, they confronted security forces with sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails and sent the latter fleeing the street in disarray. It took a military intervention and a state of emergency to force Ter-Petrosian to end the deadliest street protest in Armenia’s history.

“In essence, the people rose up spontaneously and the authorities didn’t expect that,” says Samson Ghazarian, one of Ter-Petrosian’s few prominent allies not arrested by the authorities so far. “I would say that most of those driven out of the Opera square didn’t go home and gathered near the French embassy.”

The official line, reaffirmed by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian last week, is that law-enforcement officers never intended to break up Ter-Petrosian’s unsanctioned sit-in in Liberty Square and that they simply wanted to confiscate firearms and ammunition allegedly stashed in the square. The police, Sarkisian said, used force only after the protesters ignored warnings not to resist the search.

Like many other tent campers, Chakhoyan claims to have not heard any warnings. “All I heard was, ‘Guys, attack them,’” he tells RFE/RL. “They started hitting us, we hit back and then tried to retreat. But they were already surrounding us.”

“No arrests were made in the square. People were arrested outside the square,” he says.

Chakhoyan says he somehow managed to sneak out of the square with his wife, catch a taxi and drive her to a friend’s apartment before spotting and joining a large group of fleeing oppositionists near the Yerevan State Circus, about two kilometers away from Liberty Square. Moments later they were surrounded by about a dozen police vehicles.

“Ten to fifteen of us managed to escape to a nearby courtyard,” he says. “We got in an apartment building, walked upstairs and asked residents to give us refuge. Half of us were let in, while the others, myself included, walked up to the roof. We got out of there at around 8 a.m., thinking that the police are gone.

“I saw two injured people downstairs. One of them had a broken arm and foot, the other serious wounds on his head. A resident of the building brought a bandage and cotton wool so I could provide first medical aid. We then put one of the wounded in a yellow car that took him to hospital.”

“As I bandaged the other man’s head, police came and arrested all of us,” adds the father of one.

The oppositionists were taken to the headquarters of the police department of Yerevan’s central Kentron district. “All of us were beaten up in both the police car and the police station,” Chakhoyan recounts calmly. “They hit me in the legs, the head, the sides and other parts of my body. I asked them not to hit me in the abdomen because it bleeds. I also asked them not to touch my head because my eyes had been operated on. But they kept hitting the same parts of the body on purpose.”

According to Chakhoyan, Kentron policemen were anxious not to leave traces of violence on his and other detainees’ bodies, putting books on their backs, stomachs and sides before hitting them with truncheons. The “insulation,” as the young man discovered, prevents bruises but does not reduce pain. “As they beat us, they yelled, ‘You Levon supporters, who do you think you are to hold illegal rallies and defy us? Don’t you know that Serzh won [the election?]’” he says.

Chakhoyan becomes more emotional when describing the experiences of other opposition supporters brought to the Kentron police long before the outbreak of the deadly clashes in Yerevan. “At around 10 o’clock in the morning, I saw a bleeding young man brought over to the police station,” he says. “He lay on the floor and they dragged him from his feet to the registration desk. The guy was convulsing in shock. No police officer would approach him. I said, ‘Let me help him, I can do that, I’ve worked for the rescue squad of the Armenian Red Cross.’ But they refused, saying, ‘You bastard, stay where you are and don’t move, we know what to do.’

“But I said, ‘If this guy dies, you will have to answer for that. So let me help him before it’s too late.’”

The officers relented. “I put him in an anti-shock position, pulled his tongue back and gave him water,” Chakhoyan says, adding that an ambulance arrived shortly afterwards to take away the young man and three other beaten detainees.

“There was also a badly beaten teenage boy,” continues Chakhoyan. “He was 14 at most. I saw him sitting in a corner. Blood was gushing from his eyes and forehead.”

“If you entered the Kentron police headquarters at that moment, you would see blood all over its white tiled floor and even on the walls. The floor turned red,” he says.

After nearly two hours of interrogation Chakhoyan was transported to the police department of the southern Shengavit district. He was kept there without a charge and released three days later.

“Nobody beat me at the Shengavit police station,” he says appreciatively. “They treated me in a much more respectful way. They fed me and gave cigarettes.”

Meanwhile, Naira Chakhoyan too got caught as she looked for her husband on March 2. “I walked past a police van parked at a bus stop near the railway station,” she says. “There were middle-aged policemen inside it, and I saw one of them pointing at me and saying, ‘This tramp was also there, catch her too.’”

Younger officers quickly obliged and took her to the Kentron police station which Naira says was packed with beaten men. “I stood by the wall and every passing policeman would hit and swear at me,” she says.

Naira was kept there until midnight. “They didn’t give any explanations,” she says. “Instead, they were mocking us, saying, ‘Hey, didn’t Levon promise to take care of you? Why isn’t he doing that? Why did you rally for him?’” Some officers, according to her, chanted Prime Minister Sarkisian’s election campaign motto, “Forward, Armenia!” in the process.

(Photolur photo: Riot police guard Liberty Square shortly after it was cleared of protesters on March 1.)

PACE Monitoring Committee concerns about continuing arrests in Armenia and calls on all sides to accept its proposal

*Unzipped - compare PACE proposition with a proposal contained in an open letter to prime minister Serj Sargsyan by Armenian cultural workers

Meeting in Paris on 18 March 2008, the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expressed its deep concern about the arrest of more than one hundred people in Armenia and the conditions in which such arrests took place, following the events of 1 March during which eight people died and some two hundred persons were injured.

In the opinion of the committee, the arrest of large numbers of opposition leaders and of three Members of Parliament is inevitably perceived as a crack-down on the opposition by the authorities and will do nothing to ease the tensions in Armenia. The committee called on all sides to refrain from any action that would increase the tensions and to commit themselves to a genuine dialogue to resolve the current crisis.

The committee was informed by its envoy John Prescott of the main conclusions arising from his fact-finding mission to Yerevan, on 7 and 8 March 2008, and called on all sides to accept Mr Prescott's proposals aimed at resolving the current crisis, in particular:

* the recognition by all sidesof the authority of the Constitutional Court and its ruling on the outcome of the Presidential elections;

* the lifting of the state of emergency and the restoring of individual human rights and freedoms;
* the release of all jailed activists who have not committed violent crimes;
* the establishment of an independent inquiry into the circumstances that led to the events on 1 March 2008 and the monitoring of the on-going investigation process;

* the initiation of a dialogue between all political forces, in the following areas:
- reform of the electoral framework with a view to regaining public trust in the conduct and outcome of elections;
- reform of the political system with a view to providing a proper place for the opposition in the decision-making process and governance of the country;
- media reform, especially aimed at the creation of a truly independent public broadcaster.

The Monitoring Committee noted that the dialogue between all political forces could be initiated in the form of round tables under the aegis of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.

The committee welcomed the fact that all political group leaders in the Assembly have requested that a debate under urgent procedure be held on the functioning of democratic institutions in Armenia during the April part-session of the Assembly (14-18 April 2008).

*source

SOS for GALA TV and freedom of speech in Armenia

On March 19 at 9:00 a.m. a telethon will start to raise money in support of GALA TV [Unzipped - GALA TV is the only independent TV station in Gyumri, or perhaps in the whole Armenia, faces imminent closure for 'technical reasons']. The same day at 4:00 p.m. the Administrative Court of Gyumri will pass a ruling under the case “Tax Service vs. CHAP Ltd”, the founder of GALA TV.

The Tax Service claims AMD 25,665,000 as a penalty and, if the court passes a ruling in favor of the Tax Service (which is very much likely to happen), this amount needs to be paid immediately or the property of the company will be confiscated, and GALA TV will lose its broadcasting license. The telethon will be aired on GALA TV in Shirak Province, Armenia.

Below is the account information for bank transfers at the UNIBANK, Gyumri Branch:

AMD account – 241031012610 (can accept donations in AMD, $, € within Armenia) Beneficiary: Vahan Khachatryan (GALA TV Director)

USD account – 241031112618 (can accept donations from outside of Armenia)
Beneficiary: Vahan Khachatryan (GALA TV Director)

For donations in cash please visit the office of GALA TV in Gyumri at V. Sargsyan 4/1, tel: +374-312-31819, -31889, Vahan Khachatryan (GALA TV Director) at tel: +374-91-435563.

For additional information please contact Levon Barseghyan (“Asparez” Journalists Club) at tel.: +374-91-821363 or e-mail: levon@asparez.am.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

ՓՐԿԵ’ՆՔ “ԳԱԼԱ” ՀԸ-ը ԵՎ ԽՈՍՔԻ ԱԶԱՏՈՒԹՅՈՒՆԸ ՀԱՅԱՍՏԱՆՈՒՄ:

Մարտի 19-ին, ժամը 9:00 կմեկնարկի հեռուստամարաթոն, որի նպատակն է հանգանակություն հավաքել` "ԳԱԼԱ" հեռուստաընկերությանն աջակցելու նպատակով: Նույն օրը, ժամը 16:00-ին Գյումրիի վարչական դատարանը պետք է որոշում կայացնի "ԳԱԼԱ" հեռուստաընկերության հիմնադիր "ՉԱՊ" ՍՊԸ-ի դեմ հարկային պետական ծառայության կողմից հարուցված գործի վերաբերյալ:

Հարկային պետական ծառայությունը որպես տույժ պահանջում է 25,665,000 ՀՀ դրամ և, եթե որոշումն ընդունվի ի նպաստ հարկային պետական ծառայության (որն ամենայն հավանականությամբ այդպես էլ կլինի), ապա այդ գումարը պետք է անմիջապես վճարվի: Այլապես, ընկերության գույքը կբռնագրավվի, և "ԳԱԼԱ" հեռուստաընկերությունը կզրկվի հեռարձակման արտոնագրից: Հեռուստամարաթոնը կհեռարձակվի "ԳԱԼԱ" հեռուստաընկերությամբ Շիրակի մարզում:

Ստորև նշված են բանկային փոխանցման հաշվեհամարները ՅՈՒՆԻԲԱՆԿԻ Գյումրիի մասնաճյուղում.

Դրամային հաշիվ` 241031012610 (ընդունվում են հանգանակություններ Հայաստանից)
Շահառու` Վահան Խաչատրյան (“ԳԱԼԱ” ՀԸ տնօրեն)

Դոլլարային հաշիվ` 241031112618 (ընդունվում են հանգանակություններ արտասահմանից)
Շահառու` Վահան Խաչատրյան (“ԳԱԼԱ” ՀԸ տնօրեն)

Կանխիկ հատկացումների համար խնդրում ենք այցելել "ԳԱԼԱ" հեռուստաընկերության գրասենյակ`Գյումրի, Վ. Սարգսյան 4/1 հասցեում, կամ զանգահարել Վահան Խաչատրյանին (“ԳԱԼԱ” ՀԸ տնօրեն) +374-91-435563, +374-312-31819, -31889 հեռախոսահամարներով:

Լրացուցիչ տեղեկությունների համար դիմեք Լևոն Բարսեղյանին (“Ասպարեզ” լրագրողների ակումբ) `+374-91-821363 հեռախոսահամարով կամ levon@asparez.am էլ-փոտով:

Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights calls for "independent, impartial and transparent" inquiry into Yerevan events

Strasbourg
18 March 2008

“The State of Emergency should be lifted in Armenia and an independent, impartial and transparent inquiry initiated to clarify what actually happened during the confrontations in Yerevan between the police and opposition demonstrators on 1 March”, said Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg after a three-day visit to Armenia.

He held discussions with the President, the Prime Minister and President-elect, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Justice, the Prosecutor General and the Head of Police. He also met the President of the National Assembly, representatives of political parties including those in opposition and had a separate meeting with former President and presidential candidate Ter-Petrosian.

Commissioner Hammarberg visited places of detention and interviewed persons recently arrested. Furthermore, he visited hospitals and met policemen and civilians who had been injured during the violence on 1 March. He also met with the National Human Rights Defender (ombudsman), defence lawyers, representatives of the media, non-governmental organisations as well as foreign diplomats and representatives of international and regional organizations in Yerevan.

“The censorship which was introduced with the state of emergency has contributed to rumours and anxiety among the population about what was happening, at a time when measures to rebuild trust should have been promoted. The fact that some pro-government media tended to demonise the opposition while opposition papers were out of circulation did not contribute to a constructive atmosphere”, said Thomas Hammarberg. He suggested that all limitations on the media and freedom of expression now be lifted.

“Seven civilians and one policeman were killed and many others were injured. There is a need to clarify what actually happened and what provoked the outbreak of violence. The two sides describe the events very differently and it is important, also in a human rights perspective, to establish the basic facts. This can only be done through a comprehensive inquiry which is independent, impartial and transparent and perceived as credible by the whole population.”

“Such an investigation should also aim at drawing lessons and giving recommendations on how similar situations should be handled in future. For instance, it seems clear that the Armenian police needs more training in acceptable riot control measures, serious mistakes were made.”

“The establishment of an inquiry of this kind will not be easy in the present polarised climate in Armenia. The international community has expressed its willingness to offer participation or other assistance to such a comprehensive investigation into the 1 March events in order to contribute experience, professionalism and credibility”.

“Demonstrators who committed violent acts should be held accountable, as should policemen who used excessive force. However, the arrests and prosecutions should not target people for having merely been present at the demonstrations or expressed anti-government opinions. The Commissioner also calls for the release of all apprehended children under 18 years in this connection.

It appears that some articles of the Criminal Code are interpreted broadly by the prosecutors, banning in practice all strong criticism and agitation against the government. This is not consistent with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.”

Commissioner Hammarberg also stressed the importance of preventing any improper treatment of those arrested. There were cases after 1 March when the detainees had difficulties to contact family members and to have access to a lawyer. Also, the registration of their arrest was not done in accordance with national rules in some instances.

The Commissioner was also told about cases of ill-treatment during arrests and in a few cases during transport to the police station. He welcomes the decision of the Prosecutor General to investigate ex officio all acts of violence committed by police forces against demonstrators and passing civilians on 1 March. The Commissioner underlines the absolute importance of ensuring respect for agreed safeguards against torture and ill-treatment as well as the procedural rights of the accused.

The Commissioner welcomed the statement by the President that the current human rights restrictions would be gradually reviewed and lifted. He stressed the importance of now bringing the state of emergency to an end.

*source: Council of Europe

Armenian cultural workers: Open letter to prime minister Serj Sargsyan

Armenian cultural workers slam government violence towards peaceful demonstrators, demand new parliamentary elections, independent investigation, release of political prisoners and reforms in Public TV

We are used to conformity of Armenian mainstream cultural workers. Conformity to authorities and status quo. They do not normally air their voice to protest injustices in our society, lack of democracy, human rights violations etc. They are normally out there to be used during pre-election periods and then carry on with their unexceptional existence.

But there are exceptions too. After pretty long silence over recent events in Yerevan, not only some of them started voicing their dismay over government’s handling of the situation, but also offered solutions as a way out of this crisis.

First it was Ruben Hakhverdyan. Now joined with few colleagues, well known and respected representatives of Armenain cultural scene, they signed an open letter to prime minister Serj Sargsyan protesting violent dispersion by the government of peaceful demonstrations and suggesting practical steps which they believe could defuse current political crisis in Armenia.

In an open letter, Armenia’s cultural workers stressed that despite the history of election fraud since 1996, this was the first time that the state was responsible for a bloodshed of civilians. Ironically, this happened when Armenians were marking 20th anniversary of Karabakh movement. Instead, as cultural representatives described, it was marked by “sumgaitisation of Yerevan.”

They urge prime minister (‘president-elect’) Serj Sargsyan to call new parliamentary elections. The formation of coalition government will not solve the problem as substantial portion of our society is not represented in the parliament due to previous fraudulent elections. “Only your political will could ensure new and really clean parliamentary elections.” However, it must be noted that during his most recent Q&A Serj Sargsyan rejected the idea of new parliamentary elections. Personally, I am not convinced that parliamentary elections could be enough and acceptable for all sides to defuse the situation, as there are more fundamental problems need to be solved. However, I welcome this initiative of cultural workers to offer practical solutions as a way out of the crisis. This is a position which could be debated and considered as a part of political dialogue, if happens.

Next point is a formation of independent parliamentary commission by new parliament to investigate events of March 1, as well as other instances of political killings and major economic offences during Armenia’s recent history.

They also demand an immediate release of political prisoners.

Armenian cultural workers point out the urgency of reforms within the Public TV Board to ensure pluralism of opinions and media freedom.
***

Բաց նամակ ՀՀ վարչապետ Սերժ Սարգսյանին

Հարգելի պարոն Սարգսյան:

Փետրվարի 19 ընտրությունները հերթական անգամ ստեղծեցին մեր երկրում բռնության, անհանդուրժողականության, անվստահության մթնոլորտ, խորացնելով ժողովրդի եւ իշխանության միջեւ առաջացած ճեղքը, բեւեռացնելով եւ բաժանելով հասարակությունը:

Մենք չենք մոռացել, որ այս չարիքը սկվեց դեռեւս 1996 թվականի սեպտեմբերից, երբ կեղծիքով եւ ուժով իր պաշտոնն եր փորձում պահպանել Լեւոն Տեր-Պետրոսյանը: Մենք չենք մոռացել նաեւ հետագա խորհրդարանական եւ նախագահական բոլոր ընտրությունները զուգորթող անօրինականության ու բռնության դրսեվորումները: Սակայն վերջին իրադարձությունները գերազանցել են այդ դառը փորձի բոլոր նախադեպերը: Առաջին անգամ մայրաքաղաքի փողոցներում Հայոց պետությունը թափեց սեփական քաղաքացիների արյունը: Արցախյան շարժման քսանամյակի օրերին կատարվեց Երեւանի ՙսումգաիտացումը՚:

Մենք դատավոր չենք, որ մատնանշենք մեղավորներին, սակայն մշակույթի գործիչները միշտ պարտավոր են պաշտպանել զոհերին, աջակցել թույլերին, նեցուկ լինել վիրավորներին: Խաղաղ ցույցերի բռնի ճնշումը եւ մահակներով վտարումը հրապարակից դեպի քաղաքի փողոցներ անխուսափելիորեն բերելու եր բախումների եւ նման որոշումը կամ գիտակցված սադրանք եր կամ առնվազն կոպիտ ու անթույլատրելի սխալ իշխանության կողմից: Զինված ուժերի օգտագործումը խաղաղ բնակչության դեմ սեփական երկրում անդառնալի հետեւանքներ է ունենալու մեր փոքր երկրի ու ժողովրդի համար:

Պարոն վարչապետ, Դուք, որպես ԿԸՀ կողմից հաստատված նորընտիր Նախագահ դեռեւս կարող եք կանգնեցնել հասունացող քաղաքական եւ սոցիալական ճգնաժամը: Մենք առաջարկում ենք անհապաղ միջոցների չորս կետ, որ մեր համոզմամբ կարող են շտկել իրավիճակն ու մեղմել կրքերը: Դրանք են.

Ա. Արտահերթ խորհրդարանական ընտրությունների անցկացումը: Կոալիցիոն կառավարության հնչեցրած գաղափարը չի կարող լուծել խնդիրը, քանի դեռ հասարակության մի ստվար զանգվածը դուրս է մղված Ազգային ժողովից դեպի Թատերական հրապարակ ԱԺ նախորդ կեղծված ընտրությունների հետեւանքով: Միայն Ձեր քաղաքական կամքը կարող է ապահովել Ազգային Ժողովի նոր եւ իսկապես մաքուր ընտրությունները:

Բ. Նորընտիր խորհրդարանում անկախ հանձնաժողովի ստեղծում 2008թ. մարտի 1,1999 թ. հոկտեմբերի 27 դեպքերի,1990-ական թթ. քաղաքական սպանությունների եւ տնտեսական խոշոր հանցագործությունների հետաքննության լայն լիազորություններով:

Գ. Քաղաքական բանտարկյալների անհապաղ ազատում:

Դ. Հանրային հեռուստատեսության խորհրդի փոփոխություն եւ համալրում հասարակական հեղինակություն ու հարգանք վայելող եւ բազմակարծությունն ապահովող մարդկանցով, ովքեր կերաշխավորեն ազատ ու ճշմարիտ տեղեկատվության սահմանադրական իրավունքը:

Հարգանքով` Տիգրան Խզմալյան,կինոռեժիսոր
Ռուբեն Հախվերդյան, երգահան
Արամ Թալալյան, թավջութակահար
Վահագն Ստամբոլցյան, երգեհոնահար
Գագիկ Գինոսյան,ազգագրագետ,ազատամարտիկ

Հայտարարությունը բաց է

*Thanks to S.H.