GLENDALE — Policing authorities in Armenia, once more, have brought our national dignity to the precipice of this unsavory abyss. Reports of Armenian riot police dragging Armenian citizens through the streets; evidence of Armenian officers beating detained protestors; and images of teams of armed police pounding protesters to the pavement of the very streets that the Armenian citizen liberated only a quarter century ago is an unbecoming reminder of just how unbridled the use of force has become in the hands of the ruling authorities. Genuine respect for the rule of law will require much more than simply the passage of time.
Citizens in Armenia took to the streets after the siege of the Erebuni police station three days ago, many urging the authorities to exercise restraint in resolving the standoff. Clearly there is much percolating just beneath the surface of Armenian civil society. The Erebuni standoff itself suggests that, in some circles, there is even desperation. That said, it is the unhinged handling of peaceful protesters by policing authorities that concerns ARWC most acutely here.
In democratic societies, calls for change are intended to find voice—indeed peaceful outlet and political effect—through the electoral process. However, in societies victim to widespread electoral fraud—as in the case of Armenia during the 2013 presidential election, the 2015 constitutional referendum and a myriad of local and municipal elections in between—the voice of democratic society is muzzled. In fact, it is silenced altogether, making public protest alone the natural expression of discontent within civil society. But for regimes sustained by the trampling of the electoral voice of its people, the impetus to do the same to their citizens assembled for political expression is almost unavoidable. We are here now—not because of radicalism or happenstance—but because of years of institutionalized insult to the rule of law.
That said, we must again warn ruling authorities in Armenia that, where public protest is peaceful, there is no place for the circumscription of the people’s right to assemble, to express political opinion or even to exercise civil disobedience. The role of the police during peaceful public protest is not to curtail the right to assembly, it is not to silence the voices of the protestors and it certainly is not to beat its citizens into submission. The role of policing authorities is to protect the peace—and, yes, even to protect the peaceful protestors themselves, regardless of their political message.
The last three days in Armenia have evidenced an unabashed escalation by policing authorities in the use of violence and brutality against peaceful protesters. The ARWC vehemently condemns these actions, urges prosecuting authorities to investigate violations of civil and human rights by policing authorities and encourages monitors on the ground to continue to document violations for use in criminal prosecutions.
That ruling authorities have not yet learned that brutality is not a proper tool in the protection of citizens during peaceful protests is either the upshot of an absolute obliviousness to the progress of civil and human rights in this century or the untempered untouchability of a ruling regime increasingly emboldened by an army of NGOs and diasporan organizations that do know better but choose to look the other way. Either way, it is the Armenian citizen who is left staring into the abyss of a trampled civil society.
Armenian Rights Watch Committee – ARWC
Armenian Bar Association