Failed ‘Revolution Bid’: November 5 melee in Yerevan revives memories of 2008 unrest

The relative calm in the Armenian political field was ‘disrupted’ Tuesday evening as a little-known oppositionist gathered hundreds of his supporters wearing the Anonymous masks and armed with homemade explosives, sticks and revolutionary slogans to stage a march in central Yerevan. The protest action ended in clashes with riot police, as a result of which dozens of the demonstrators were detained.

Shant Harutyunyan, a 48-year-old leader of the obscure nationalist Tseghakron party, began a sitting strike in Liberty Square late last week with a poster that said “I’m Starting A Revolution”. The former prisoner who was involved in the high-profile “Case of Seven” (when alleged organizers of the 2008 post-election unrest, including ex-foreign minister Alexander Arzumanyan, were tried), initiated a protest as part of the Million Mask March world event promoted by Anonymous, a loosely associated international network of activists known to wear Guy Fawkes masks. What was initially announced as a peaceful march to call for peace, justice, democracy, transparency and freedom turned violent as demonstrators put to use firecrackers and sticks to confront the security forces.

Before the start of the action, near Liberty Square, Harutyunyan addressed supporters, using some strong language and saying that he was going to make a revolution at any cost. The activist called on the other demonstrators to go towards the presidential palace located in the nearby boulevard and threw petrol bottles at the building.

“It is better I get killed with a sniper bullet while I hold petrol bottles in my hands… I don’t want to leave Armenia, I will live here, I don’t want the rest of the world to say about my nation that there is no people there, all are corrupt like [President] Serzh [Sargsyan],” said Harutyunyan, adding that they did not have any arms other than petrol bottles, rocks, sticks and firecrackers.

The demonstrators were met by riot police and more than three dozen were detained as a result of the scuffle that ensued and in which the homemade explosives and flares were used by the protesters.

While most observers did not pay much attention to Harutyunyan’s calls before, by the end of the day Tuesday many compared what happened or could have happened to the March 1-2, 2008 events in Yerevan when 10 people were killed as security forces broke up an anti-government demonstration protesting the outcome of the presidential election.

Mashtots Avenue, which is the Armenian capital’s central thoroughfare, stayed blocked for traffic for several hours Tuesday evening as clashes occurred between protesters and police near the Opera House. Injuries were reported on both sides. A total of 37 demonstrators, including Harutyunyan, were detained.

Armenia Today news website editor, activist Argishti Kiviryan said: “This way the ruling criminal-oligarchic police regime has once again proved that it won’t give up power easily and will resort to any kind of violence in order to retain power...”

Meanwhile, political Tigran Abrahamyan said that what happened is “nothing more than not a miscalculated, failed process, which was out of the logic of struggle against the authorities.” “It was a poorly staged adventure, which could not possibly solve any problem,” he said.

Late into the night many activists waited at the Central Police Department for their comrades to be released. Some minor clashes also took place there. Lawmakers affiliated with the opposition Armenian National Congress and Heritage parties had also come to the place.

More than a dozen activists were released shortly after midnight.

The latest general amnesty in Armenia was announced in September. It is as part of this amnesty that the last oppositionist who claimed to be a political prisoner was set free. It is not ruled out that many of the activists detained on November 5, including Harutyunyan, will be charged for using violence against representatives of the authorities (as well as, possibly, for exiting violence or even attempting to overthrow the government). It is on these charges that many protesters were arrested in 2008 and were later described as “political prisoners”.