Media Review | 19-Year-Old Yerevan Girl’s Testimony Tells of Repeated Harassment by Artsakh Police

On March 26, a video testimony was published as part of a report by local news site Epress.am. The video features Asya Khachatryan, a 19-year-old girl from Yerevan, describing the three-day, police-led harassment she experienced at the beginning of February in Artsakh’s capital city, Stepanakert. In the days since it was published, Khachatryan’s testimony has gone viral across local media, sparking a variety of responses, as it touches on a number of sensitive themes affecting Armenian society, including gender profiling, civil rights injustices, police brutality, and the state of Armenia-Artsakh relations.

In a video testimony, Asya Khachatryan, a 19-year-old girl from Yerevan, describes the three-day, police-led harassment she experienced at the beginning of February in Artsakh’s capital city, Stepanakert

 

Summary of Khachatryan’s Testimony

Khachatryan, who had moved to Stepanakert at the beginning of 2018 to live and work there, says she was leaving work around midnight on Feb. 1, when she was first approached by local police officers, who began questioning her and instructed her to hand over documents, including her passport. She refused to concede her passport without proper cause, and when she asked officers what she had done wrong, they responded that it was unusual to see a girl out that late at night, and that, as Artsakh is a war-zone—whenever they see an unfamiliar face, they need to verify that person.

Her interactions with the police over the following days escalated after this initial encounter. The next day, she was detained at the police station after being approached by officers outside a Tashir Pizza and again refusing to hand over her passport. Khachatryan said she tried numerous times to emphasize her Armenian citizenship to the officers, who responded, “This is not your Armenia.”

The next day at 1 a.m., officers came to her apartment, which she shared with a female friend, and demanded entry, despite having no warrant or right to search. Upon entering the girls’ apartment, the officers conducted an invasive survey of the area, which included them inspecting her bathroom and refrigerator. Khachatryan said the officers also made snide remarks about her lifestyle, allegedly asking her whether she smoked and commenting, on the empty beer bottles in her kitchen, that “girls shouldn’t drink beer.”

Khachatryan and her roommate were then taken to the police department, where she was subjected to questioning. She demanded her right to to a phone call and was denied, at which point she refused to answer any more questions without a lawyer. This angered the officer detaining her and a physical altercation ensued, in which she was aggressively handled and slapped. She says her roommate, in a separate room, was also hit over the head and rendered unconscious.

Khachatryan says the officers were unable, throughout the course of her detention, to provide a legitimate explanation for why she was being detained, in the end stating, “Here [in Artsakh] we don’t have girls with blue hair going around smoking and walking alone at night… Imagine, we’re a warring country, we thought you might be a spy.”

After returning to Yerevan, Khachatryan made contact with Artsakh Ombudsman, Ruben Melikyan. She tells Epress.am in her testimony that after listening to her story, Melikyan said he would take punitive measures, but allegedly preferred to do so through routes which were not “official.” Khachatryan says Melikyan offered to privately chastise the policemen who detained and harassed her.

 

Official Responses

Hours after the Epress.am article went live, Melikyan’s office published a statement to social media indicating the Ombudsman had initiated the process for investigating Khachatryan’s story and that if her statements proved truthful, “then the behavior of the Artsakh Republic Police Force is unacceptable and they should be held responsible to the fullest extent envisaged by law.”

The statement also disputed Khachatryan’s account, arguing her description of the phone call with Melikyan as “only partially accurate” and that “Mr. Melikyan clearly explained to Ms. Khachatryan all the effective legal remedies available. Furthermore, he has stated that he stands ready to pursue them all.” On March 28, the Ombudsman’s office published another statement indicating it had already begun the process of retrieving answers from local Artsakh law enforcement about Khachatryan’s story.

As of 9:53 p.m. on March 28, 2018:  Following the publication of this review, an abridged interview with the spokesperson for the Republic of Artsakh, David Babayan, was released on the news site 168.am, confirming that an official investigation into Khachatryan’s case had already begun, issued directly by President Bako Sahakyan. He also stated that speculations as to the abnormal state of “Karabagh-Armenia” relations were counterproductive and inaccurate.

 

Differing Perspectives in the Press

Several articles have appeared in local press outlets and on social media from members of the community taking stances on the controversy and debating its various implications.

Garbis Pashoyan, a journalist at Hraparak.am, writes that the situation is a bad sign for relations between Armenia and Artsakh. “They hit and discriminate against an Armenian girl in Artsakh and emphasize the fact that she is Armenian,” he argues, “but meanwhile, Artsakh is standing because of taxes paid by Asya Khachatryan… The sign ‘Free Artsakh Welcomes You’ stands in the soil because that soil is mixed with blood,” writes Pashoyan, “And that is Armenian blood.”

Political Analyst Stepan Danielyan writes on his Facebook page that this issue started the day Armenia declared itself independent from Artsakh—a political move that according to him, has turned Artsakh into “a curse and legal black hole for Armenia, which is used during illegal ‘elections’ as an ideological and physical baton over Armenia.”

Others, like Tatul Hakobyan, the coordinator and editor of the Ani Research Center, suggest the issue is not about Armenia-Artsakh relations. Instead, it’s about broader civil liberties’ violations in the region, something Armenia too struggles with immensely. Anna Pambukhchyan of “Conscious Citizens Association” also argues this is a case of human rights and democracy in Artsakh. A foundation for democracy in Artsakh is more important there than anywhere else, she says, because it actually helps their position in the conflict with Azerbaijan (known for its human rights violations). Meanwhile, on social media platforms, many individuals and grass roots womens’ organizations believe that Khachatryan’s case exemplifies female discrimination and abuse in the region, and the territorial politics distract from taking this issue more seriously.

Karine Vann

Karine Vann

Editor
Karine Vann is the editor of the Armenian Weekly. She is a musician who transitioned into journalism while living in the Caucasus for several years. Her work has appeared in Smithsonian.com, The New Food Economy, and a number of other publications. Her critical writings focus primarily on the politics of culture, media analyses, and the environment. She spends her spare time in front of a keyboard, at a farm, or making a fuss about zero waste. If you have comments, questions, pitches, or leads, she can be reached at karine@armenianweekly.com.
Karine Vann

@karinevann

Editor at @ArmenianWeekly newspaper. Journalist. #ZeroWaste advocate. All views my own.
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11 Comments

  1. I watched the video yesterday and was very impressed with Asya’s intelligence, bravery, and knowledge of her rights. I am surprised that she is only 19 years old, that’s amazing! I am sure Asya will have a bright future and sure will contribute positively to social issues of Armenian society. I sincerely believe that Armenians be in Armenia or Artsakh have a long way to go to solve there centuries old social problems trusting without external interferences.

  2. Haig if you’re so impressed with Asya you can get her an airplane ticket to the USA to help contribute to the social conditions there. Perhaps a nice encounter with the police there will rapidly sober her and you up. She’s nothing but a danger to a fragile republic fighting for its survival and losing its sons on a daily basis. At this most crucial time of survival when national unity is paramount importance one questions the real motives of individual like Asya and the organisation that support people like her.

  3. How you can post such a news presenting only one’s side perspective? Very unprofessional approach. If the story happened two months ago, why she was silent till the end of March??? Where are the proofs of her words? Anyone can claim anything; however, it does allow Armenian Weekly to divide our nation. Shame on you, Armenian Weekly — you’re helping Armenians become disunited.

  4. Shame on you Armenian weekly.
    No proof any thing happened to this girl two months ago who says “for me any one is good Azeri or Armenian or Russian I love every one”that is unreal from Armenian girl.
    We forget that every day Azeri sniper kills an Armenin Soldier and now this girl is here saying I love Azeris.
    Shame on you Armenian weekly printing this tiple of one sided story.

  5. What a shameful exploitation of this troubled teenage girl’s story by foreign sponsored organizations and media! All to make a quick buck for driving a wedge between Artsakh, Armenia and the Diaspora. Looks good on future grant applications too.

    If you were a parent of a teenage girl who was found loitering past midnight with an open alcohol container in one hand a lit cigarette
    in another and the police sent her home would you be mad at them? What if you daughter was found doing this repeatedly in a different state let alone a different country?!

    Wouldn’t you expect the police to check her ID to make sure she is of legal drinking age? Passports in Armenia and Artsakh are just like a driver’s license here because not too many people actually have driver’s licenses. Especially teenage girls walking alone in the dark.

  6. I think that too much is made out of this. These are simple policemen. not legal experts, not social workers not London bobbies. The comment “about the blue hair, and being out late, etc”. betrays a certain provincialism. The follow up home invasion and the roughing up at the station was excessive. However to keep in perspective, in times of war, martial law prevails and anywhere else like in Azerbaijan, the treatment and the outcome could have been unspeakable.

    • Sounds like the “don’t ask me to wash – I might stink a little, but my neighbor stinks far far worse” excuse for inactivity. What would Armenia do for excuses if it did not have a foul-smelling Azerbaijan as a neighbor?

  7. “Anyone can claim anything; however, it does allow Armenian Weekly to divide our nation”… A sentence, and a thousand problems within, as usual. What an unbelievably absurd claim. “Dividing the nation” (or not) has nothing to do with the conversation here. Or how many soldiers have been lost in the war also has nothing to do with it (as some comments absurdly claim under Asia’s video on Youtube along with tons of absurd comments full of gender-related harassment against Asia Khachatrian and women in general). So if it is that easy to divide this nation with “blue hair” and “women smoking outside” then please save your precious breath. A woman (and her friend) has been beaten and abused, and she had the courage to stand up for her rights. How to look, how to behave and where to smoke (in this context) are women’s business, not men’s + police cannot use their power to commit gender-based harassment (or any other kind of harassment ), to abuse women and beat them! “Impunity” / “immunity from criminal prosecution” is the evil here and these abusive practices not only lead to further division between individuals, they also lead nations down the path to doom.

    • You forgot to copy the previous two sentences: “If the story happened two months ago, why she was silent till the end of March? Where are the proofs of her words?” So, I am still waiting for the proofs that she was BEATEN, as well as explanation why she recalled about the story two months later. And yes, if you claim something without presenting ANY proof/explanation and if Armenian Weekly presents only one-sided information, with the aim of dividing our nation, all this becomes even MORE shameful.

  8. Let’s make it simple, Anywhere else in the world, if you are alone in the middle of the night smoking and drinking and you met policemen, they will do their jobs, ask your ID. This is normal, it doesn’t become discrimination just because the girl have blue hairs. And anywhere in the world if you refuse to give your ID you will have big trouble.

  9. Police and officials in this case have been behaving like police and officials in all parts of the world who misuse legislation and powers introduced for, and intended for, specific purposes of state security in order to harass someone who has dared to question their illegitimate actions and attitudes. This is why all such powers and those exercising them need to be subject to constant oversight scrutiny. Does such oversight exist in Artsakh? In this case it is made worse by Artsakh not really being a democracy and not having a history of respect for the rights of individuals and individuality. We hear all the time rhetoric about the value of the collective unity of the citizens of Armenia and Artsakh towards their problems and enemies (there are even some comments here descending to that level), but the everyday reality of this call for “unity” is the expectation of collective unquestioned obedience towards those who have power and the expectation of collective silence towards the abuse of that power. That, regrettably, is what is always meant by “unity” by those who are always calling for “unity”.

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