Usually in a hostage crisis, the public sympathizes with the hostages upon their release. But in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, where a group of anti-government gunmen took over a police station last Sunday, more sympathy seems to be with the hostage-takers themselves.
With no end in sight to Yerevan’s police-hostage crisis, the arrest of scores of people – political activists, protesters and, in some cases, non-protesters alike -- appears to be widening divisions within Armenia between the government and the governed.
Although police do not provide details, human rights organizations claim that over 200 people have been arrested from different parts of the Armenian capital since gunmen from a fringe extremist opposition group took over a police station on July 17.
On the night of July 20, that tally presumably increased after a violent clash between police and hundreds of protesters attempting to bring food to the gunmen. The health ministry reported that at least 51 people were injured, including 25 police officers. The ombudsman's office indicated that reporters were among the wounded.
Protesters built a barricade against police, but by dawn law enforcement had reportedly mopped up the resistance. The number of arrests has not yet been released, although opposition MP Nikol Pashinian stated that 15 members of his own party, Civil Contract, had been taken in, Panarmenian.net reported.
The clash, which police tried to put down by using tear gas and batons, topped off three days of building tensions over attempts to stifle any anti-government protests.
An armed opposition group’s takeover of a police station in the Armenian capital Yerevan has deepened longstanding divisions in this South Caucasus country as government critics and supporters exchange blame for a deadlocked crisis that already has led to the death of one person.
A fatal child-custody fight has revived calls in Armenia for an effective law against domestic violence. Women’s rights advocates argue that both the justice and law enforcement system in this predominantly patriarchal, South Caucasus country still fail to address domestic violence as an actual crime.
Pope Francis visited Armenia to promote the values of peace and reconciliation, but, for many ordinary Armenians, the pontiff’s June 24-26 trip only deepened a divide that separates them from their own government.
When Armenia joined the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union in 2015, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan justified the decision in part by asserting that membership would enhance Armenia’s national security. But, as the early April flare-up in fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory showed, such security benefits are more theoretical than real.
In an unprecedented move, Mihran Poghosian, a senior Armenian official named in the Panama Papers’ corruption exposé, resigned from office on April 18. His stated reason, though, was not the accusations against him, but, apparently, a more patriotic one – the dishonor of sharing press space alongside Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
In an explanation sent to Armenian media outlets, Poghosian described himself as “saddened that my name is being raised alongside the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, who has actually privatized millions of dollars,” according to an English-language translation of his comments published by RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “I find it unacceptable that I might be the reason for any possible civilized parallel to be drawn between my country and dictatorial Azerbaijan.”
“Is this a sign that something is changing in this country?” asked Yerevan resident Naira Soghomonian, 31. “Or is this another way of distracting people from the truth? Anyway, who would have thought . . .?”
Civil activist Syuzan Simonian, founder of the Front of Armenian Women, suspects the resignation is intended to quiet potential frustration with the government.