YEREVAN (A.W.)—The streets are bustling with activity in Armenia’s capital. Road construction projects are partially paralyzing the city once again after a two-month break. The economy on the surface appears to be booming, with the exchange rate holding steady at 305 dram to the dollar. Yet Armenia finds itself at a socio-political crossroads, the first of its kind since the nation declared independence from the Soviet Union. The country is still spiritually reeling from the crisis of events that crippled the nation for nearly one month.
Throughout March and well into April, the arrests of oppositionists and even those suspected of having connections to opposition supporters persisted. Scores of people remain jailed amid sharp criticism from the Council of Europe and strong concern expressed by the United States. Aram Sargsyan, former prime minister and brother to slain Vazgen Sargsyan, who is one of the key players in the opposition movement, was formally accused by the authorities of conspiring against the state, although like People’s Party leader Stephan Demirchian, he has not been arrested. At least 100 people are being detained as political prisoners. The crackdowns are viewed by Western nations as being a blow to democracy in Armenia.
International monitoring organizations such as the Council of Europe have expressed serious concerns about the mass political arrests. On March 31, the organization called for an independent investigation regarding the events of March 1 and for all political prisoners to be released. Human Rights Watch along with the Council of Europe called for the Armenian government to toss out its ban on public assemblies.
On April 2, about three dozen jailed opposition figures organized a hunger strike, among them former foreign minister Alexander Arzumanian. The protest began to fade as the health of some of the detainees declined drastically. On April 9, opposition leader and former president Levon Ter-Petrossian called for the hunger strike to end so that activists could prepare for renewed protest movements in the future. Meanwhile, Ter-Petrossian curiously remains under house arrest despite the fact that nearly all of those closest to him politically, notably Pan-Armenian National Movement party members, have been jailed.