ARF Supreme Council Representative Aghvan Vardanyan Calls Incident ‘Unacceptable’
YEREVAN (A.W.)—On Jan. 31, police and unidentified men blocked and assaulted around 40 cars traveling from Armenia to the Nagorno Karabagh Republic (NKR) on the Goris-Stepanakert Highway near Berdzor, preventing them from crossing into Karabagh. The vehicles carried members of the group called Founding Parliament (previously known as Pre-Parliament), an opposition group whose aim is regime change in Armenia.
The Founding Parliament said in a statement that around a dozen participants of the car rally, under the banner of “100th Anniversary without this Regime,” suffered injuries in an ambush by NKR police—some in uniform, others in civilian clothing, and some masked. Police wielded bayonets at the cars and rally participants, in an incident that was caught on film by the protesters. Car windows were smashed, and the tricolor flags were snatched off the vehicles.
Police say they intended to “prevent mass disturbances,” after news of the planned rally gave rise to concern among a large segment of the population in Karabagh. NGOs based in Karabagh also reportedly joined calls against the planned initiative. The police acknowledge their units were stationed at various points on the Goris-Stepanakert Highway.
The Founding Parliament claims its members were unarmed, and that many were accompanied by their families. Among the rally participants was Karabagh War veteran Jirayr Sefilian. A journalist with Noyan Tapan, Anushavan Shahnazaryan, was reportedly hospitalized in Goris.
“False information was spread to those in Berdzor that we were armed. In addition to this, they were trying to convince people that the car rally, led by Jirayr Sefilyan, was a plot to try to persuade soldiers to no longer serve in Artsakh, to abandon Artsakh and leave it unprotected,” read a statement released by the group. Once their plans to hold the car rally in NKR were made public, the group received a number of threats warning that the rally would be blocked, noted the statement.
According to the police report, officers tried to dissuade the caravan from continuing into Karabagh, saying it would cause “social tension,” but the rally participants “resorted to illegal actions” and “provocations.” The report went on to say that officers were forced to use “corresponding” measures to stop the rally. “Unfortunately, some people were injured, but their lives are not in danger,” read the report.
Vardanyan: Berdzor attack ‘unacceptable’
Speaking with reporters, ARF Supreme Council Representative Aghvan Vardanyan said the incident in Berdzor was unacceptable, and that it must be condemned.
Yet, Vardanyan also stressed that “the approaches, modus operandi, and goals of Pre-Parliament, especially its slogan ‘100th Anniversary without the Regime,’ are unacceptable to us. You can’t tie [the Centennial] with our domestic problems, because the Centennial of the Genocide is an entirely different issue, where national unity is needed.” It is incomprehensible, he added, that the Founding Parliament would ignore numerous calls from Karabagh to postpone the rally, given the tense environment there.
“No good came out of the use of force. This is unacceptable for us. It is also dangerous,” Vardanyan said. “Certain forces within Armenia and abroad will try to use this intolerable incident to polarize the country, or to drive a wedge between Armenia and Karabagh.”