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Armenia: Has Violence Become an Acceptable Tool for Change?

This week’s armed attack on a police station in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, has raised questions about whether the use of violence is now seen in the South Caucasus country as an acceptable way to push for reform.

The gunmen who seized control of the Erebuni police station on July 17, killing one law enforcement officer, wounding a few others and taking several hostage, have long advocated the government’s overthrow – not via the ballot box, but by force. They are members of an organization called Founding Parliament, which comprises primarily veterans of the 1988-1994 conflict with Azerbaijan over the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh territory.

Founding Parliament does not have representatives in any elected body. It vehemently opposes territorial concessions to Azerbaijan in exchange for a Karabakh peace deal, now rumored to be under consideration by officials in Yerevan. The group also has taken issue with various alleged civil rights abuses under President Serzh Sargsyan, whose resignation its members now demand.

Generally seen as a radical fringe group, Founding Parliament has not, until now, enjoyed large public support. But over the past six days, many Armenians have started to support these veterans’ notion that force can be a first resort.

People in the streets and on social media comment that the armed takeover of the Erebuni police station “is the only way” to force reforms, using the “only” language the government can understand. Some go further, saying even that the authorities “should be gunned down.”

Armenia does not have a post-Soviet history of armed uprisings, but there have been episodes of politically related gun violence. The 1999 gun slaying of the prime minister, parliamentary speaker, a minister and several parliamentarians is the most prominent example of violence influencing politics.

Political analysts and human rights activists alike believe that the gunmen’s sudden popularity springs from years of Armenians seeing violence prevail over rule of law. Building frustration over the lack of change has fostered a public mood in which radical means, including violent methods, are gaining acceptance as a way to promote reforms.

These days, even among those who are advocates of liberal, democratic reform, support exists for the gunmen. Opposition activist Davit Sanasarian, one of the co-leaders of the non-violent Electric Yerevan protests in 2015, is among those who justify the gunmen’s actions.

“When every day you see in the media how oligarch lawmakers talk, how they behave violently, solve their issues by means of beatings, it cannot but cause a culture of violence in society,” said psychologist Arshak Gasparian, head of the Social Justice organization which trains police to address domestic violence. “Every day, they keep prodding us into thinking that this is the way, that only through force can one solve problems.”

Events cited to explain this phenomenon run the gamut: from the 2008 killings of eight protesters and two police officers in a clash over presidential election results and signs of police brutality toward protest prisoners to murders by those connected with powerful government-linked allies that go unpunished.

A contributing factor is repeated incidents of non-combat soldier deaths and widespread domestic violence. The government’s record on such issues is inconsistent.

The hostage crisis “happened because injustice has reached its climax,” asserted Avetik Ishkhanian, chair of the Armenian Helsinki Committee, a human rights non-governmental organization. “The roots and causes of this, and those responsible, should be sought within the government.”

Senior government officials have not commented on the violence or the hostage crisis, now in its sixth day. On July 21, Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Eduard Sharamazanov, spokesperson for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, broke that silence.

Calling for calm amid “a very nervous moment,” Sharamazanov told reporters that “We don’t need new bloodshed. We have no enemies in Armenia. All are our brothers and sisters.”

The situation, as Sharamazanov noted, remains tense. On July 20-21, protesters threw rocks and bottles at riot police blocking access to the Erebuni police station. Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades and beatings with batons. At least 136 people were detained and about 70 people were hospitalized.

Clashes had erupted also on July 19 when young men living near the seized police station pelted police officers with rocks after the neighborhood’s only road was blocked for security reasons.

“The public mentality has changed, as the elites have provided the model of solving problems with the use of arms and beatings,” Gasparian said.

Violence has also been reported in police departments where hundreds of activists and other individuals have been taken, as law enforcement mops up anti-government protests. Human rights activist Ishkhanian alleged that police used force against more than 50 detained demonstrators. The police have claimed that they investigate each report of abuses by law enforcement.

Officials appear aware that trying to resolve the hostage crisis by force could easily backfire.

“If they disperse this protest today, tomorrow people will go into the streets … because the roots of the problem remain,” asserted Ara Papian, director of the Yerevan-based think-tank Modus Vivendi.

Protesters have moved steadily from brandishing “wooden sticks” to, now, Kalashnikovs, he added.

Relative calm has prevailed since the hurly-burly crackdown on the July 20-21 protest. On July 22, President Sargsyan issued his first public comments about the hostage situation, stating after a meeting with police, prosecutors and security officials that “In Armenia, problems will not be solved through violence, attacks, or hostage taking. We will not allow that”.

Terming the crisis’ peaceful denouement “the most serious test for Armenia, for our society and the maturity of our state,” he urged the gunmen to give up their weapons and hostages, and for protesters to keep their demonstrations peaceful and within “the framework of the law.”

The authorities will be patient, Sargsyan said, but added that “I believe this is going on longer than we can allow.”

Observers consider the gunmen’s chances for success slim to none. “Against force there is always a greater force that has authority,” noted Hovhannisian.

Ultimately, she added, whatever the provocation, use of weapons only “leads to a crisis, which we witness today.”

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Armenia

Number of divorces increased in Armenia

YEREVAN:The number of divorces in Armenia has increased in recent years.Report informs citing the News.am, lawyer Aramazd Kiviryan said at a meeting with journalists on February 24.

So, according to him, on this issue many more people applied to lawyers than in previous years.

“It seems to me that this problem, to a great extent, has social causes, that is, social situation forces people to take such radical steps,” Kiviryan explained. Problems in the family, lack of funds and other social and domestic problems are often the main reasons that lead people to divorce. In addition, among the reasons provoking divorce, Kiviryan also called the intervention of parents of married couples in their personal lives, as well as other members of their families, which negatively affects relations, leading to internal intra-family conflicts.

 

In addition, as the lawyer noted, the divorce proceedings create rather painful consequences especially in families with children, and in such circumstances, issues related to the upbringing of children emerge. For children themselves, according to Kiviryan, it is extremely difficult to endure all these processes.

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Armenia

Armenian Defense Minister Crowdfunds Soldier’s Surgery

YEREVAN:At issue is the medical care of Albert Dallakyan, a 21-year-old who was accidentally shot in the head by his commanding officer last June. Dallakyan has already undergone three surgeries in Armenia, but his family says he needs another operation, for which doctors in Armenia don’t have the top-of-the-line equipment. The family wants to get the surgery in Germany, where it would cost $45,000, but the Armenian government won’t pay for the surgery abroad since it technically could be performed in Armenia, albeit at a greater risk of failure.

An Armenian-American activist started a crowdfunding effort to pay for the costs of the surgery in Germany, and the controversy began when Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan promoted the campaign on his Facebook page. He also pledged to pay 10 percent of the cost himself, along with “a few of his friends,” he said in the post. (As of this post’s publishing, Sargsyan had in fact contributed $6,015.)

Many didn’t see the act as quite so charitable as Sargsyan intended it. “Mr. Minister, do you consider it a normal phenomenon for a sovereign country to organize such a surgery through fundraising,” one Facebook commenter asked. “What law-abiding leaders we have, who refuse to circumvent the law! BRAVO,” another said, with evident irony. On January 17, several opposition activists took advantage of the public outcry and held a press conference criticizing Sargsyan. The political opposition has piled on, as well.

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Afghanistan

Senior Cleric Says Iran ‘Fully Determined’ To Boost Missile Power

Tehran interim Friday Prayer Leader Ayatolllah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami said the Islamic Republic of Iran is fully determined to upgrade its missile power aimed at “confronting whatever threat posed by Israel”, IRNA reports.

Addressing the worshipers at Tehran University, Ayatollah Khatami said “in a world where wolves rule and there is no logic in their behavior, the Islamic Republic should be armed and powerful”.

The senior cleric said Iran’s military missile might is one of the main components of the country’s policy of deterrence.

“We have missiles, we would continue building more missiles and increase their ranges”, he added.

The senior cleric further said that the most important principle of Iran’s military power is defense through deterrence.

Ayatollah Khatami said Iran would never make atomic bombs, adding that based on a Fatwa issued by Supreme Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Iran remains to believe that it should not develop and possess nuclear weapons.

 

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