This morning just after 11:00 I went to see my auto mechanic and the first thing he told me after I greeted him was that “they took them all out.” Of course he was referring to the thousands of people who were camped out at Liberty Square which surrounds the Opera House. Then I drove by there to see what was happening—there were police everywhere, completely surrounding the Opera House. I was lucky enough to find a space near the end of Mashdots Street and walked down to get a closer look. There was at least one truck full of an elite military division known as the Red Berets. Riot police completely surrounded the Opera, there was no way of getting in or out. Each officer was holding a Plexiglas full-body shield, wielding a thick baton and wearing a heavy duty helmets as well as a padded blue camouflage uniform. I was supposed to be headed off to work but I never made it because I stayed in the city’s center all day long. I met some people I knew including my friend Karen who is a press photographer and his father Sergey, who I have written about before. He was a former Karabagh Committee member from the late 1980s and he as well as many others I heard are disgusted with the way the current Armenian leadership, mainly those from Karabagh, are handling the situation.
As of 11:04 pm this is what I know:
- Approximately 5,000 people who were camped out at Liberty Square were forcibly removed by a supposed equal number of police at approximately 6:00 am. There were countless people injured but as of this afternoon there were still no confirmed deaths. However, someone told me that a 13-year-old kid was “martyred,” but again, this is not confirmed because the information is not there. Most of the news is being passed around simply by word of mouth. The television stations do not report about what is happening because they are more or less all government controlled.
- Countless thousands of people—at least 10,000 I would say roughly—converged on the intersection of Grigor Lyusavorich and Vasken Sargsyan Streets where the French and Italian embassies are located. The Russian embassy is only a block away. Why people chose that spot is not known, perhaps because the French president was one of the first to congratulate Serge Sargsyan as being the president elect, I don’t know. The Yerevan City Hall is just across the street, might be another reason.
- The atmosphere at that location was tense the entire afternoon. I was there for most of it trying to gauge what was happening, as was everyone. The slogans were the same being chanted—“Sergik Go Away,” “Levon, Levon,” and most poignantly “Struggle, Struggle Until The End.” People were extremely upset, it was obvious from the conversations I overheard and some bandaged heads that I saw. I witnessed a few guys running around with riot police shields and helmets—how they got a hold of them I have know idea, probably during a scuffle that eventually broke out there as I know. There was a clash which I did not see, and the police retreated from the area because the people did not give in.
- As of this afternoon there was no word from the candidates of political parties who were contenders in the presidential race. Raffi Hovanissian apparently issued a statement condemning the breakout of violence in the morning. The crowd is livid with oppositionist Country of Law (Orinats Yerkir) leader Artur Baghdasarian for agreeing to form a coalition with Serge Sargsyan. There was no comment from the ARF-Dashnaktsutiun.
- At Liberty Square Levon Ter-Petrossian was arrested while the place was being cleaned out of protesters. He was taken home and placed under house arrest, a first in Armenia as from what I have been told no such thing exists under Armenian law. His underling Nikol Pashinian, who is a full-blown leader of this movement now, I witnessed being carried down Vasken Sargsyan street on the shoulders of about four guys. Apparently he was hidden away by some protesters overnight. Opposition leaders Aram Sargsyan, Stepan Demirjian and entrepreneur Khachik Soukiasyan were all there. Sargsyan addressed the crowds at one point as they were able to set up a makeshift sound system and Peleshian also followed suit. There were connection problems at first which irritated many in the crowd since nothing they said was audible.
- By 7:30 pm in front of the Government Building on Republic Square riot police were guarding the corner of the building where it is most vulnerable to crowds. To the sides and rear of the building were busloads and trucks filled with army personnel. They were suited up with rifles across their shoulders and virtually prepared for anything.
- Back at the location where the crowds were waiting for Ter-Petrossian to appear many were armed with wooden sticks and even pieces of metal—rods, gate railings, whatever they could get their hands on that was handy. Everywhere I turned I managed to see people walking past me holding something to defend themselves with, including women. At 8:00 there were still plenty of people around, more than ever. The streets leading into the square there had been blocked off with buses, the tires of which were deflated. The people were not tightly packed in the area, but there were a lot of them. Vasken Sargsyan Street basically is an elongated square with a park running through the middle of it—many were walking about but the majority were at the intersection standing on the steps of a monument there. Park benches were being used as barricades by the people along the sidewalks of the park.
- By 8:30 pm, riot police started to slowly move down towards the intersection where the people were gathered from Republic Square. I was able to make it out of there fairly quickly with the others who were by my side through an adjacent park. As we made our way across the park we heard a huge roar coming from behind us, and in the distance I saw the police moving steadily towards the crowd. Near home it was business as usual—stores were open, restaurants were serving guests, guys were walking their dates home, dogs were sniffing around while on leashes, but the stray ones were hiding underneath parked cars. Yet where I live, a stones throw away from Republic Square, I am hearing a barrage of gunshots once every minute.
- One person is purportedly dead, caught on video.
- As of Sunday morning, eight people are confirmed dead in a statement made by Armenian police.
Now what does this all mean? I did not expect violence to break out, I did not believe that thousands of troops would be on guard waiting to pounce on their own people who are clearly distraught about what’s happening in their society. I was wrong when I believed that Ter-Petrossian would finally tell people to go home—on the contrary, they were being forcibly removed and beaten in front of his eyes. Is this what he really wanted? After all, in 1996 when thousands of people were protesting against the election that he supposedly won but who his main challenger, Vasken Manoukian, claimed he falsified, he also sent troops to the streets and even tanks to dispel the crowds. The current authorities are doing the same to his followers. But this is no longer about Levon. This is the struggle of the Armenian people, and it is their fight. Yet we don’t know just how many will continue.
What can happen is anyone’s guess. I was speaking to a friend of mine at the rally, a journalist for RFE/RL, and when I asked him what he thought was going to happen he told me he had no idea. There is simply no way of knowing as of this writing. But I can conclude the following: if the people want change, if they are willing to sacrifice their lives for that change in the spirit of revolution, and if they think that Ter-Petrossian is the one who lead them towards victory and prosperity, then let them fight, let them reach their goals. They are doing it right now, while I write this, I can hear them. I was with them.
Labels: Politics, Thoughts and Musings