Saturday, March 1, 2008
Armenia: At Least 2 Dead in Yerevan Violence, as Kocharian Declares State of Emergency

After riot police failed to disperse an anti-government rally in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, President Robert Kocharian resorted to declaring a state of emergency. The president issued declaration as security forces and supporters of presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian waged running street battles that involved shots fired and Molotov cocktails tossed. Military armored personnel carriers were also seen taking up positions in the capital.

Ter-Petrosian supporters had been staging a permanent protest in central Yerevan, demanding that the results of the February 19 presidential election be nullified. Ter-Petrosian finished a distant second to Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, a close Kocharian political ally, according to the official results. But Ter-Petrosian and his backers insist that the government engaged in widespread fraud to ensure Sarkisian’s election.

The trigger for unrest on March 1 was a pre-dawn attempt by security forces to break up the permanent protest. Ter-Petrosian supporters initially fell back, but quickly regrouped, despite the fact that Ter-Petrosian was placed under house arrest and a number of his aides were detained. Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian disputed the notion that Ter-Petrosian was under arrest. Speaking to journalists, Oskanian instead portrayed Ter-Petrosian as being under state protection.

Toward the evening of March 1, thousands of anti-government protesters had reassembled in downtown Yerevan, forming barricades with busses and other vehicles. A few hours later, the center of the city was engulfed in violence. Security troops fired shots into the air, sending red tracers streaming over the cityscape. However, according to some eyewitnesses, some shots also were aimed at the crowd. In response, Ter-Petrosian supporters from behind barricades lobbed Molotov cocktails in the direction of security forces.

According to sources at Emergency Hospital No. 3, at least two people – one civilian and one member of the security forces – are confirmed to have been killed amid the violence. There are also reports of numerous wounded.

Kocharian’s state of emergency order will be in effect for at least 20 days. Under the state media outlets are prohibited from publishing news other than official government communiqués. A presidential statement justified the declaration of a state of emergency "to prevent a threat to constitutional order."