Armenia exists in a state of emergency which will last for 20 days. There are eight people confirmed dead as reported by the police. Republic Square looks like a war zone with troops ready on a moment’s notice for action. I counted 12 tank-like vehicles, some of which belonged to the military police. There were solders surrounding the Government Building, most of whom were strolling casually or standing around smoking cigarettes. The expression on most of their faces was grave. Nearly all of them were carrying AK-47 rifles slung across their shoulders or other kinds of firearms. Hundreds of troops were stationed there from different battalions judging from their uniforms. There were about 30 soldiers lined up in front of the Converse Bank for some reason, while there was no one stationed in front of HSBC. A couple of blocks away it is business as usual, the vernisage is open with customers searching through the trinkets and odd metal junk on one side of it and on the other the arts and crafts section was bustling as it is every weekend, nevertheless the people present were about one-fourth of the usual number. There were quite a few pedestrians along Amiryan and Mashdots Streets, either aimlessly walking or carrying shopping bags. The portion of Mashdots from Khorenatsi Street to Grigor Lyusavorich Street, where the produce market is situated and a tunnel for traffic leads out of the center, was cordoned off by a few police vehicles. The street was covered with broken glass, and in the distance a backhoe was dragging mangled pieces of metal away, probably the burned-out cars that were lit on fire by some of the protestors, who were characterized as being “petty criminals” by someone I know who stuck around to witnesses the clashes. Some stores were looted. Then I walked down Khorenatsi towards Vasken Sargsyan Street and saw minimal police presence, nevertheless the street was closed off to traffic as well as pedestrians as municipal workers struggled to clean up the mess. I saw one bus used as a barrier by the protesters which was virtually destroyed still there lying across the road. There was a good streaming flow of people about, but they moved along as if nothing ever happened, most likely so that they would not draw attention to themselves. The police were upon first impression gentlemanly, they were not rude nor obnoxious as were the hundreds of soldiers I walked past in Republic Square.
Nothing I am writing is particularly unique as far as I know. There is a lot of information available to read on the Internet as reported by the New York Times, BBC, Reuters, and other news services, and finding it should not be too difficult for anyone, including people here. The Armenian media is playing things down, they have their hands tied because of the state of emergency that was called last night and can only report official press releases from the government for the most part. Although one television station last night showed some footage of the aftermath, recorded secretly it seemed from a moving vehicle. President Robert Kocharian held a press conference last night which I managed to watch but only the last segment. He basically stated that he was forced to enact the extraordinary circumstances to protect Armenian citizens. My morale is needless to say low, and thousands of people are in the same state.
Labels: Politics, Social and Cultural