- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
April 16, 2004

The Right to React: Activists call for response to civil liberties abuses

About a thousand marchers turned out in the rain Thursday to demonstrate against what they called police brutality during Tuesday’s clash on Bagramian Avenue.
Free to speak?

Carrying slogans such as “No to police state” and “Freedom,” the protesters, most of them students, tied balloons on the fence near the parliament compound. The gesture was meant to show solidarity with those who were injured during the violence. Some of the demonstrators wore T-shirts with “I am the people” written on them.

The event was the result of a meeting by human rights organizations early this week at the Business Center of the American University of Armenia, where they vowed to protest widespread violations of civil liberties in Armenia.

“Now we are in a situation resembling what was taking place in the ‘70s in the Soviet Union when any public work was senseless,” says president of the Committee on Protection of Freedom of Speech Vardan Harutyunyan. “Now we are struggling against that decline.”

With examples of violations occurring almost daily in Armenia during the past two weeks of oppositional party demonstrations, representatives say what is taking place today is a regression toward Soviet times.

“Today in Armenia acts of state terrorism are taking place against their own nation,” says chairman of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia Avetik Ishkhanyan. “Violations of human rights are widespread and it is not possible to systematize them.”

State police were represented at the meeting by deputy head of Legal Security Department Hovhannes Kocharyan, who was applauded when he confirmed to the group that police set up roadblocks to prevent demonstrators from reaching Yerevan in recent days.

The meeting was in response to acts of violence against demonstrators during political rallies.

Seven public organizations represented women’s rights and reported an “atmosphere of fear and intolerance” in issues concerning women and juveniles.

About 70 organizations were represented, and maintained that their interests are not political, but civil.

About 1,000 gathered in the rain

“The sound of these (police percussion grenade) explosions disturbed sleep of the whole city (Monday night) and how can they continue talking about noise made by demonstrators,” asks former Minister of Environment Karine Danielyan. “We held demonstrations together with Dashnaks (political party) and Hanrapetakan (Republican) party. We organized meetings with them, we posted pickets for freeing detainees from Dashnak party. Why were protests allowed in those days and now it is not? Now when (Dashnaks) are at the helm then why it is not allowed?”

On hand for the meeting were members of a Yerevan State University group, whose lobbying helped influence laws on compulsory military service.

Representing rights group New Armenia, Elenora Manandyan pointed blame inward for current undesirable conditions.

“It is not possible to develop science and education when the law is violated, when supremacy of the law is not a value at all,” she said. “I don’t blame police. I blame all of us. How can we talk about civil society if society is itself conforming.”

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Not Opposed to Blessing

Before all hell broke lose in the center of Yerevan the next day, His Holiness Garegin II offered blessings to worshippers attending Easter services. Roads linking Echmiadsin and the Holy See to Yerevan have been blocked, even on the Holy Day, to discourage travel to the capital for political rallies.



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