Ani Kirakosyan is 22. She will not let us take her photograph, because she is afraid. By her accounts of what happened to her during a police crack down on Armenia’s political opposition, her fear is justified.
Ani got a degree in journalism at Yerevan Pedagogic Institute and after graduation was offered a job collecting information for the online magazine of the Republic party.
On the evening of April 13, Ani was in the headquarters of the party. It is oppositional leader Aram Sargsyan’s office, but Ani is not a member of the party and says she is apolitical. For her, the work is a job, not a passion.
Police raided the office where Ani works during a sweep of oppositional members ordered by authorities on a night when hundreds were attacked with water canon, percussion grenades and beaten by police with batons.
At about 2 a.m., police reached the Republic party headquarters near the Opera House.
First, police took away the men in the office. Then they came back for the women. Ani was one of 13.
“We switched off the lights and were waiting,” says Ani. “I was terribly afraid. When police officers began beating a woman under our window, I approached the widow as I decided to help that woman. But at that very moment they began fiercely knocking at our door.”
One man was left in the office, Artak Zeinalyan a disabled veteran who lost his left leg in the war in Karabakh. He tried to intervene when police came in, but was pushed to the floor.
“They were cursing us and roughly dragging us into a car,” Ani recalls. “There was an elderly woman with us who was feeling very bad. We asked them to at least let her go but they refused.”
When Ani asked: “Where are you taking us?” A policeman replied: “I don't know. Somewhere, where we find spare place.”
Lockup was at a premium that early Tuesday morning as an estimated 400 arrests were made. More would follow.
The women were taken to the Erebuni Community Police Department. Ani was questioned by an officer named Grigor Mitoyan.
“First, Mitoyan entered the room with four or five policemen then a high-ranking policeman came and everybody stood,” Ani recalls. “I was sitting and watching. I didn't know what would happen next. He approached me and kicked me: ‘Stand up, I say!' I stood up and he began kicking my legs, belly and hitting my face with his hands. I was crying but I didn't say anything. He was cursing us using profanity toward me. I was so scared that I urinated on myself.”
Ani says she was beaten for about 10 or 15 minutes by an officer named Poghosyan. One of the women in the group identified him as Kamsar Poghosyan, deputy head of the department.
When that officer left the room, other officers gave Ani water and warm clothes.
“I asked what I did and why he beat me? He could have had a daughter of my age. Policemen told me that nobody beat me and it was only my imagination.”
In a few minutes she heard shouts and curses coming from a corridor. The policemen quickly took away the warm clothes and water from Ani. At that moment head of Erebuni Community's Police Department Nver Hovhannisyan entered the room.
“I don’t remember, at that moment I was standing . . . He came at me in a fury and was kicking me. I urinated on myself three times. I dropped on my knees, I was crying: ‘What have I done, why are you beating me?’,” Ani says.
“You were at demonstration, I saw you there,” she recalls the head of police saying. “You were standing in the front rows. So you wanted to change the president?”
“I told him he mistook me for someone else,” Ani says. But he continued to kick my back and belly.”
Ani says the department chief threatened that “he would bring all his policemen and they would rape me or he would arrest me”.
One of the 13 women, Oghide Harutyunyan, was taken to police department with her 19-year-old daughter. They were kept in the department for 36 hours, in separate places.
Harutyunyan, 45, has a degree in law. She previously held the rank of major in the Ministry of Defense.
She says she tried to defend the women by telling police of their rights. She says a policeman told her: “Don’t you live in Armenia? The law is at the top. We do whatever we are told to do.”
From a floor above her, Harutyunyan heard screaming and feared it was her daughter. (She and her daughter were also beaten by Hovhannisyan, she says.)
“I could clearly hear horrid yells of a girl coming from the third floor. I didn't know whether it was my daughter crying or someone else. Later I knew it was Ani Kirakosyan,” Harutyunyan says.
When Hovhannisyan left the room (according to Ani, he was beating her longer than the deputy head) Ani continued to cry loudly. One policemen asked her not to cry so loudly. “If he hears you crying, he’ll return and beat you again,” the policeman said.
Eventually, police took Ani to the Erebuni Medical Center.
In a waiting room one of the nurses saw bruises on the girl’s legs and back. The nurse asked Ani if she had fallen.
“I said I was beaten in the police department,” Ani says. “A doctor, who was present during the conversation, interrupted the nurse and was treating me roughly. I saw an investigator waiting in the lobby.”
Ani, afraid that she had passed out during the worst of her experience, asked to be examined by a gynecologist. She was denied.
She was examined by sonogram, then asked to pay 5000-6000 drams (about $9-$11), however, Ani said she had no money with her.
She was discharged, but not given documents of her examination.
“I never knew what had happened with me,” Ani says. “They said everything is ok but their faces said completely different things to me.”
(Ani is currently recovering at home. She suffers acute abdominal pains and doctors say her internal organs are bruised.)
When Ani left the hospital she saw her parents and relatives waiting at the entrance. However, an investigator didn’t allow her to talk with them and again she was taken to Erebuni Police Department.
After spending 15 hours in the Police Department seven women were gathered in one room. “All of them were beaten but not so much as I was,” Ani says. “There was a woman among them, who was also beaten very fiercely. All of us were crying.”
At 7 p.m. five women, including Ani, were let go.
When Ani tried to find out why only five had been set free policemen told her: “Because you are not guilty”.
Editor’s note: Twice during the preparation of this article, ArmeniaNow made attempts through police department officials to verify the claims of women in this article. We told a police spokesperson that allegations were being made, and that members of the department should be given an opportunity to respond.
Sarkis Martirossyan, Head of Operations at Erebuni Police Department “categorically rejects the fact of women being beaten” at the department.
Press and Public Relations Department of the Republic of Armenia Police Mushegh Kroyan told ArmeniaNow: “If these women were subjected to acts of violence, then let them go to the law. It is natural that policemen of Erebuni Police Department will not confess that they had beaten them.”