Saturday, August 2, 2008

Opposition and civic activists protest use of force in Armenia

This was first published in March 15, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Ter-Petrossian campaigners, others condemn government’s actions
Gather at Armenian Embassy, visit State Department
by Emil Sanamyan

– Between 30 to 40 protestors on March 10 gathered outside the Armenian Embassy in Washington to condemn the recent violence in Armenia and restrictions imposed as part of the state of emergency declared by President Robert Kocharian.

About half of the attendants flew in from Los Angeles, where supporters of former presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian had organized a large demonstration the previous day. (See coverage in the March 8 issue of the Armenian Reporter.)

On March 11, Dr. Harry Sarafian and Sevak Khatchadorian, two Los Angeles–based activists with the Social Democratic Hnchakian Party, which campaigned for Mr. Ter-Petrossian, visited with the State Department’s Caucasus office to convey their views, the Armenian Council of America reported.

At the embassy, the demonstrators submitted a petition protesting a “brutal assault against democracy in Armenia.” They called on the Armenian government to lift the state of emergency restrictions and end the arrests of opposition leaders and activists.

Unlike other presidential candidates, Mr. Ter-Petrossian refused to accept the results of the February 19 election won by current Prime Minister Serge Sargsian and described by Western observers as “mostly in line with international standards.”

The ex-president’s supporters continued to hold unsanctioned but largely peaceful rallies and marches, until police and demonstrators clashed on March 1. Later that day, some of the protestors initiated deadly riots and looting in central Yerevan, which led to the imposition of the state of emergency, including media restrictions
and a government crackdown on pro-Ter-Petrossian activists.

Armenian officials argue that having lost the election, the Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s campaign sought to use undemocratic and “illegal” means to come to power by orchestrating defections from government structures, including the military, and using street protests as leverage to achieve that.

Ararat Stepanyan, 29, a Maryland businessperson who was the sole signer of the embassy protest petition, told the Armenian Reporter that the protest and the petition were organized in conjunction with the Los Angeles–based pro-Ter- Petrossian activists.

“Using force against peaceful demonstrators is totally unacceptable and that was the main reason behind my effort to organize this protest,” Mr. Stepanyan said. At
the same time he made clear that he was not a member of the ex-president’s campaign.

“I do not agree with Ter-Petrossian’s approach, his ideas, and his solutions to problems,” Mr. Stepanyan explained. “But without agreeing with Ter-Petrossian, I strongly condemn [the government’s handling of the election and subsequent protests].”

“I’m not a fanatical supporter of Ter-Petrossian and I don’t share many of the other participants’ political views,” another protestor who asked not to be named told the Armenian Reporter.

“I’m just against the use of force against people and I support the freedom of speech. To me this is above anything else.”

1 comment:

Diana said...

I know Mr. Stepanyan. He is a liar and a hypocrite. I wouldn't take anything he says seriously.