Tag Archives: Police

Blood in the water and the End of the Barevolution

It’s been almost a week since the Inaugurations and protests of April 9—and my last blog post, apologies. The short of it is that, if the lack of tweets is any indication, the barevolution is next to dead as a movement.

After the significant criticism Raffi got from his own camp regarding the events of the 9th, he gave a long response on facebook. The core of his defense is that he wouldn’t engage in actions that could lead to bloodshed, and that he was forced to be “flexible” because of the people. The first argument is defensible while the latter is not. In any coalition, you’ll always have differing views; the point of the leader is to select a path that the people support and can follow. Otherwise, the coalition starts to break down at the critical moment. The brutal weather did make it hard to communicate his plan, but there is no reason he couldn’t have communicated his steps earlier. Overall, Raffi was stuck between a rock and hard place, but the people expect a leader to be able to navigate choppy waters.

CivilNet has a video that summarizes the rally of the 12th. Armen Martirosyan, Yerevan mayoral candidate and arrestee on the 9th, has a nice quote:

“[A] leader is not hiding behind black walls … but standing in front of the people with his  family … leading the way. A leader like him might make mistakes, he might fall back for a second, but a leader like him never falls down. A leader like him always stands tall and leads us to victory.”

Unfortunately, Raffi didn’t provide any concrete plan to lead the people in the upcoming weeks and months and primarily echoed previous statements. He told people to come next week to another rally, the norm at his events.

Without any stated plan, Raffi’s coalition is breaking apart. The youth activist crowd is willing to fight “leaderless.” Pre-Parliament is starting to organize its own rallies. ARF-D backpedals from its support of the movement. The ANC criticizes Raffi’s actions and handling of the day and dismisses all of his rallies as “never pos[ing] a serious threat” (to the Republican’s delight). Everyone can sense the blood in the water, and there are plenty of sharks in the opposition that would love to knock Raffi down a notch or two for their own personal benefit. With ANC’s recent reorganization, they have a good chance to steal the momentum away from Raffi/Heritage/Barev Yerevan.

One group that deserves special mention in regards to the events of the 9th is the police and how surprisingly well they acted. There are activists that criticize the police for what they did. Just looking at some of the videos from the day demonstrates the aggression the police showed, at the height of the conflict. Just a short time after the conflict, the Armenian Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan walked with Raffi to the Genocide Memorial and even went as far as praising Raffi and calling him a “peaceful person.” Maybe it’s because of that praise that the authorities were openly annoyed at the “leniency” the police showed the protestors. The Ombudsman Karen Andreasyan did ask for explanation from the police for their actions, but the explanation the police gave is actually fairly reasonable, for a police department and especially for a post-soviet police department. [Updated:] The Ombudsman points out concerns but seems generally supportive of the police’s actions.

Of course, it’s easy to be upstanding when you have plain-clothes cops ready to rough people up, as this CivilNet video alleges. The video is heavily edited but appears to show aggressive members in the crowd shoving protestors with impunity, while the cops do nothing. When called out about it, Yerevan’s police chief says in the video that they would never have cops in civilian clothes and to bring a written complaint to his desk the next morning. Unfortunately for him, Gasparyan decided that he needs a fall guy and dismissed  Yerevan’s chief of police yesterday evening.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Elections

So what the hell happened today!?

I just got home from a long day of frustrated protesting. There was so much activity today and action, but the momentum wasn’t retained. The conclusion is bittersweet in that so many people seem committed to change, but so little came of it. Here is my best to give a recap of the events of today.

10:30am: A march of people from Yerevan’s regions gets hassled by the police.

10:45am: The student protest begins with students marching to Freedom Square. When the protesters arrived at the Yerevan State University Black Building, the guards locked the door, trapping the students (and me) inside. The rationale being that they need to protect the good students inside from the protesters.

11am: Raffi’s rally officially begins. This is Armenia, so it doesn’t really start until noon.

12pm: Raffi gives his speech. It was a speech similar to other speeches saying that he’s here for the people and that the people of Armenia are the ones with power. Also, Serzh Sargsyan should come and apologize to the people. The square is filled with people at this point. Rumor has it that Reuters estimates 12,000 people present.

1pm: At around one, Raffi gives his oath. It wasn’t the oath of presidency, but a “citizen’s oath.” Hetq has the details. Afterwards, he said there will be song and dance and to reconvene at 6pm. This is where I, thinking it was over, leave to go back to work, disappointed with the lack of content of his speech and how it sounded similar to all of his other speeches.

2-3ish: Raffi stayed in the square and people started complaining that he needs to do something. So, while half of the crowd has already left, Raffi starts leading a march in the city. He heads towards Haraparak and Tigran Metz, but suddenly switches directions and goes up Mashtots towards Baghramyan. This is where things get iffy because the police aren’t happy with the changed marching path. Some people are arrested.

3ish: At some point, Sargsyan has his inauguration where he says he will focus on emigration, unemployment and poverty (videos).

4pm: The police hold back the people on Demirchyan. Rumor has it, that it was done to give time for police to setup barricades on Baghramyan. They fall back within an hour.

5:30pm: A splinter group of protesters does a sit-in in front of the Presidential Palace and gets arrested. This news report says it happened at six, more notably, Zaruhi Postanjyan asked the protesters to go back to Freedom Square but they refused.

[Added:] 6pm: The crowd reconvened at Freedom Square where Raffi told the crowd that he would reveal his plan on Friday, the 12th. The crowd was angry and “booed and screamed” at Raffi to get him to do something. They convinced  him to march to Baghramyan.

6:30pm: Clashes occur with the police as Raffi starts leading people up Baghramyan. Raffi tries to push his way through the police, which leads to a madhouse. Raffi gets knocked down. Armen Martiorisan, Heritage’s candidate for Yerevan’s mayorship, gets roughed up by police and arrested and his nose broken (both visible in this video). [Incorrectly listed at 5pm in the original]

7pm: Raffi pulls his second WTF?? of the day by giving a short speech and asking people to go the Genocide Memorial. He leaves with most(?) of the crowd, but a large portion of the crowd refuses to leave. Many people are upset and feel like he is abandoning the people and the cause. [Incorrectly put at 5:30pm in the original]

8pm: Marshall Baghramyan metro stop was closed all day, so I walk to the protest coming from the North West. I’m able to get into the closed off center of the street and take some awesome photos (see below). I join the crowd at Baghramyan and Isahakyan.

8-10pm: Absolutely nothing happens as the people mill about. The crowd is constantly dwindling, decreasing from a few thousand to a few hundred by the end. Frustration with Raffi’s back and forth is increasing. Many people are saying that he, as a leader, failed the people.

9-10pm: The people are stopped in front of Baghramyan with Raffi talking to the head of police to allow them through. The police say no. Raffi then argues to let them walk on the sidewalk. It’s unclear if Raffi stayed with the crowd or was leaving and returning. Raffi doesn’t have a megaphone and the crowd couldn’t hear anything he said to the cameras, so there was lots of confusion.  Armenians have not yet discovered the People’s Mic[Incorrectly put at 7pm in the original]

Finally at about 10:30pm, the police allow the people to walk up the sidewalk of Baghramyan and open the street to car traffic. Almost certainly this came about from Raffi’s negotiation, but I can’t confirm. The plan was to sing the national anthem at the Presidential Palace, but no one felt like singing at that point.

Overall, many of the people I talked to are excited for the amount of energy and activism shown by Armenian people, while being frustrated with Raffi. Raffi did not have a plan for today, let alone a plan for the near future. While the people showed a lot of energy, that energy was lost by people waiting to see what Raffi would do and by his inconsistent comings and goings.
[Added at noon on 10 April:] ArmeniaNow has a good write up on the day. Also, my friend Ani has a (long) first-hand account of the day’s events from her perspective near Raffi’s family. She also has maps of the marching paths,  in case my description above is confusing.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The empty street of Baghramyan, between the lines of cops.

The empty street of Baghramyan, between the lines of cops.

A secondary line, in case the protesters get passed the first line.

A secondary line, in case the protesters get passed the first line.

A water cannon available to the police.

A water cannon

The main protest line. The police and the protesters were milling about here for hours.

The main protest line. The police and the protesters were milling about here for hours.

After sitting around for a while without going on, the police put down their shields.

After sitting around for a while without anything going on, the police put down their shields and relax a little.

The walk up Baghramyan and the police that followed the people up.

The final walk up Baghramyan, and the police that followed the people up.

[Edited for grammar the next morning. Edited again at 10:30am and again at noon to add extra content and corrections.]

9 Comments

Filed under Current Events, Elections

Gearing up for the Defender’s Office’s Annual Report

The Human Rights Defender’s Office, where I was a fellow at last year, puts out an annual report on Armenia’s human rights situation. I contributed in the final push for publication for last year’s report.

This year’s report is being developed, and as a “sneak peak,” the Defender’s Office releases key summaries of human rights violations in different sectors. The final report should be available sometime around May.

2 Comments

Filed under Human Rights

Calling the Police

Yesterday was stressful, partially because I’m a spurkahay (Diasporan) that’s not willing to conform to Armenian standards, partially because Armenian men think they can do whatever they want, and definitely because of the language barrier.

I went by the Birthright Armenia office after work and was there until 8pm. I walked toward Hraparak metro as I typically do, going through the park that’s just north of Vernissage. Unlike all the previous times, this time I saw a young-ish guy push a young-ish girl into a wall and place his leg next to her in an intimidating way to stop her from leaving.

Some people would have kept walking, some people would have confronted him. I did all I knew to do: I stayed and watched and called a Hayastanci (local Armenian) friend to figure out what I should do.

The guy proceeded to smack her around a bit. I could see that she was bawling her eyes out. He continued to be in her face, say some things to her and hit her. He also had two friends about 3 meters away (~10 feet) doing nothing. One time he hit her so hard that there was a loud smacking noise. The two guys said the equivalent of “hey;” that was the limit of their involvement.

I call the police, who thankfully have an English speaker available. Unfortunately, that English speaker doesn’t understand words like “hit,” “beat,” “smack,” or “punch.”

“What happened?”

“This guy is hitting this girl.”

“What?”

“This boy is hitting/punching/attacking/etc this girl”

“Who attacked you?”

“No one attacked me, the boy hit the girl.”

“When did they hit you?”

“No, he is hitting her now, hima!”

Eventually she understands and says the police will come in five minutes.

By the time the police arrive—which amazingly was in roughly five minutes—the guy had stopped hitting her and was now holding her “softly.” She had also stopped crying. In fact, everything seemed normal. Normal enough that the cops didn’t think there was any problem whatsoever. “Boyfriend and Girlfriend” and “no problem” they said to me. This was even after I had my Hayastanci friend explain the situation to them. Apparently, the girl wasn’t willing to discuss what happened to her to four male cops with her boyfriend beside her (assuming she thought there was even a problem to begin with).

Fine. I leave, not particularly surprised that absolutely nothing was done. At least I could hope that I made an impact on the guy that people are willing to report his abuse. I start moving on thinking about what else I need to do until the calls begin.

Only a few minutes after walking away the cops call me. With my very limited Armenian and ample usage of “chhaskatsa” and “inch?” I understand that they want to know where I am. As a general rule, I only like to speak to police if I’m reporting a crime or I have a lawyer present. When the police are constantly asking you your location, I’m not inclined to answer. With my limited Armenian, I simply cannot understand why they want to speak to me or know where I am as they said there was no issue. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that they don’t keep calling and calling and calling and calling… I’m starting to get worried enough that I start calling people for advice. They agree that I should figure out why they want my location, but as I can’t setup a three-way call on my phone, they can’t give me any better advice. At this point, there are a few theories of what is going on.

  • The cops aren’t coordinating with each other and the cops calling me aren’t the same cops I saw.
  • The cops just need me to sign some statement that they came or something equally bureaucratic or trivial.
  • The cops are going to turn this around and accuse me of a false police report.
  • The cops gave my number to the abuser, and the calls are actually from the abuser who wants to get revenge. (Definitely not something I would have thought of as an American)
  • The cops know I’m America-Hay and thus care about their image and want to make it seem like they’re doing a good job. This could include getting my statement (a.k.a. driving me to the station where there will be an English speaker) and promising to “investigate.”

Chances are, the last possibility is the most likely. Regardless, the lack of understanding of the situation and whether I was potentially in legal or physical jeopardy was particularly frustrating. Fortunately, after 25 missed calls the cops stop calling. I try to relax.

The story concludes in an uninteresting and unsatisfactory way that I’d rather not mention here. The complete dismissal by the cops followed by their barrage of harassing phone calls will definitely make me pause before calling them again. I now have, sadly, a better understanding for the fatalistic Hayastanci that have given up hope that Armenia will get better.

In the mean time, “enjoy” this excellent video (English subtitles) about the prevalent domestic violence in Armenian Soap Operas made by the Society Without Violence. (Trigger warning for visceral—if fictional—acts of domestic violence)

1 Comment

Filed under Personal, Social / Culture

Elections: Final Statement

This post is the conclusion of this, this, and this post.

This is the final post on the May 6 National Assembly Elections. The net result is that the predicted storm of fury, criticism and calls for a do-over never came. Don’t get me wrong, the opposition parties still raise the issue of election rigging, but there haven’t been protests in the streets like after the 2008 presidential election. The people have accepted the results for better or for worse.

There is no doubt in my mind that this election is the best election Armenia has had in terms of legality and legitimacy. The fact that this more legitimate election changed very little in the National Assembly sticks a feather in the Republican’s cap: they can win through rampant vote stuffing and thuggery as well as through the less awful gift giving and vote buying.

My viewpoint above is not universal. There are some international groups that think that “voters showed even less confidence in the election process [than in previous elections]” like the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly. Thankfully, I do have some heavy weights on my side including the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Armenia.

Today, the Human Rights Ombudsman releases his report on the elections. The one sentence summary is that the elections were pretty good. There were hundreds of complaints of violations but many of the complaints were minor (e.g. the ballot boxes were not at least 1 meter apart from each other), especially compared to the last election.

The biggest concern that’s highlighted in the report is that while the Armenian people were willing to call in cases of violations, the police were simply not willing to investigate the cases. In complaint after complaint, the police say that they investigated and were not able to verify the complaint and thus dismissed it. Supposedly, the police interview all witnesses before determining there is a lack of evidence. However, my friend and Birthright Armenia alum Greg Bilazarian not only reported possible fraud, but recorded it and published it through the well known and respected CivilNet. He contacted the police at 6:45pm; no one came even though the election was still ongoing. Eventually he got a letter from the police basically saying “nobody saw anything.” Somehow, the police were able to come to this investigatory conclusion even though they never even attempted to interview Greg, the main witness to the fraud!

Undoubtedly, there are also concerns listed about the Central Election Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office, but possible failings of these institutes are masked by the failings of the police. The failing of the police to properly investigate the complaints, whether from ineptitude or political corruption, stunts whatever faith the people can have in the police. The few cases where the police themselves pressure complainants to drop their complaint doesn’t help (see pages 14-15 of the report). This lack of faith has massive negative ripple effects throughout society, especially as the police are being given new responsibilities to deal with new challenges (e.g. the domestic violence law).

Addendum: It turns out the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights released their report on the same day. It’s available here. Very briefly, they comment on but avoid discussing the irregularities and instead provide technical advise for the next election.

Addendum 2: I want to be clear that there were still huge amounts of corruption occurring during the election, predominantly in the form of vote buying. My above analysis isn’t about making a holistic evaluation as to whether the election truly represents the will of the people, but whether the election procedure was followed well. Both election reports focus on the technicals of the election (the OSCE on the direct functioning of the election, the Ombudsman’s on the number, type and institutional responses to the individual complaints received), and I limit my analysis to that sphere.

Voting stamp

The stamp one gets in their passport to stop one from voting again.

1 Comment

Filed under Elections, Internal Politics