Several thousand supporters of the former president, Levon Ter-Petrossian, participated in an unsanctioned rally held at the Matenadaran in the center of the Armenian capital, Yerevan. The demonstration was the first major opposition rally since the 1 March post-election clashes which left 10 dead and hundreds wounded.
The opposition accuses Armenian authorities of ballot-stuffing and intimidation in the Feb. 19 election won by Serzh Sarksyan, an ally of outgoing president Robert Kocharyan.
His main challenger, former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan, was placed temporarily under house arrest after the election.
Addressing about 8,000 of his supporters on Friday, Ter-Petrosyan said he would continue to fight for the presidency and vowed fresh protests.
“This criminal group … shot at its own people,” he told the crowd in central Yerevan, referring to the March 1 clashes between opposition supporters and police in which 200 people were also injured.
Some reports indicate that roads into Yerevan were blocked and that public transport services were halted in some locations outside the capital. Regardless, the rally was small by local standards. The Armenian Observer reports from the scene although believes the number of those attending was larger than that reported by Reuters, AP and AFP.
Estimating the crowd size is rather hard. According to RFE / RL – the head of Yerevan Police Department Nerses Nazaryan has stated 10,000, while Aram Z. Sargsyan estimated a figure of up to 50,000. From the rallies I’ve seen in the past, I’d say the crowd is clearly much bigger then the 10,000 figure – I think around 20,000 would be a realistic estimate.
Anyway – the size of the crowd is not important. What is important, is that the rally is peaceful, and hopefully there won’t be more violence. Really – please, please – we can’t afford another March 1 now. […]
The Caucasian Knot estimated the crowd at about 7,000 although was only present for the first hour so it is possible that more attended later. On the other hand, there is no reason to doubt reports from the major international news wires which had reporters present. Even RFE/RL, which has displayed a pro-Ter-Petrossian bias in the past, reported “thousands” rather than “tens of thousands.” Typically, the opposition claimed 50-80,000.
But as many Ter-Petrossian supporters argue, actual numbers are not important. In the post-election situation where freedom of assembly is restricted to some extent, thousands did ignore police warnings not to converge on the Matenadaran. In order to prevent them from instead meeting at Yerevan’s symbolic Liberty Square, the municipality said a children’s even was instead planned. Unzipped reported on that earlier in the week.
Question: How to prevent opposition rallies in Liberty square, Yerevan, Armenia?
Answer: To set up a ‘children’s park’ there.
Despite their pledge to restore basic freedoms and democracy in Armenia after 1 March events in Yerevan, the Armenian authorities did not authorise this rally and so far have not made any significant progress in meeting European obligations and demands.
Incidentally, police on the whole behaved more professionally in the past although there were some incidents. While leaving the Matenadaran one policemen pushed his riot shield into my camera to prevent photographs from being taken and as I took one of riot police guarding Liberty Square, one told me I couldn’t. As the law does not prohibit taking photographs in such situations, I carried on regardless saying “thank you” in English at the end to identify myself as a foreigner.
“Fuck you,” the policeman shouted in English as I walked away before I returned to tell him he didn’t know the law or what his duties were. So much for professional policing in this case.
Regardless, while the numbers were small and the riot police were out in force, the event passed peacefully. Interestingly, the amount of youth as a percentage of the crowd was more noticeable than its been at other rallies held before Ter-Petrossian’s return to the political stage last September. And if the Babe Theory of Political Movements is anything to go by, the eye candy was out in force. Certainly, political demonstrations in Yerevan are now more interesting to photograph.
However, not everyone is happy with Ter-Petrossian’s speech. Instead of offering his supporters reasoned policies and addressing pressing issues without resorting to populism, the first president instead played on divisions within Armenian society. Blogian is less than impressed.
By calling Armenia’s leaders “Tatar-Mongols,” Petrosyan is not only insulting his own nation, the fight for Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia’s society, but also millions of people around the world who have Turkic origin. The worst thing is that this kind of racism doesn’t turn the thousand protesters off. So is Levon just a racist himself or is he catering a racist audience?
Bitter, oppressed and poor people often find scapegoats. But how long are we going to tolerate this kind of racism? What right do we have to mock Azerbaijan – where the word Armenian is purposely spelled with a lower-case “a” and condemn its institutionalized racism – when our own “leaders” accuse each other of being a Turk.
More about the rally and photos from there