Notes From Hairenik
July 11, 2008
These days in Yerevan there seems to be more police officers on the streets than I have ever remembered seeing during the last four years I have been living here.

Lately I have been taking public transportation to work to avoid driving in chaotic traffic and constantly dodging clueless amateur drivers. This morning when climbing the stairs which exit the underground shopping plaza at Paregamutiun (Friendship) Square I passed by four cops. Two of them had truncheons affixed to their belts, ready to use at a moment's notice. They were so thin and frail looking with slouched soldiers that I doubt they would be able to handle a weapon if the need arose, which I doubt will ever. The other day I noticed them at the same metro station, and there was one standing around even at the Republic Square station that day as well. Usually you never see police in the metro, only the guards who stare at people from their small booths at the tops and bottoms of escalators.

Yesterday afternoon on Gomidas Avenue outside the building where I work three police officers traveling in an unmarked vehicle pulled over a minibus for some reason, and naturally there was some sort of argument in action, but between some of the passengers and the lead cop. The two others held their batons and were walking around nervously. A small crowd of people had gathered to see what was going on, and I couldn't figure out what the problem was. Perhaps the row had to do with people hailing minibuses at random places along the street, which has been a problem for years. The police has been cracking down on minibus drivers lately to pick up passengers only at bus stops and nowhere else along any city street. But what is the justification of having cops on hand with batons? What are the chances for passengers to become violent after being chastised by police to wait at bus stops? I think that possibility is remote.

When the resumption of opposition-led rallies started on June 20 hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of cops took to the streets in Central Yerevan. They were even bused in from outside the city as Liberty Square which surrounds the Opera House was packed with buses. Police holding shields, truncheons and even taser weapons lined the perimeter of the block on which the Opera House is located that day, as was the case on March 1. Everyone was on guard and ready for action it appeared. On top of that there were members of the red and blue beret brigades strolling around. Last week I witnessed the same thing, but that time the cops were lax, barely holding onto their shields or else placing them on the ground. They were all bored and resorted to sitting along abandoned cafe support walls smoking and munching sunflower seeds. Others were sending SMS messages and conducting business over their mobile phones. No one seemed to take seriously the demonstrations which were being held a half-mile up the street in front of the Matenataran, a centrally located structure perched on a hill where ancient manuscripts are archived. There were hundreds of police up there as well, wearing their classic oversize caps and light-blue short-sleeved shirts, standing around and looking uninterested, even though perhaps some were secretly supporting the rally--you can never tell what people may be really thinking.

But last night I did not see one police officer loitering nearby the spot where a constant sit-in demonstration has been held for the last seven days or so on the only completed block of the Northern Boulevard. People there are protesting the mass arrests which have been going on since March 1 demanding that political prisoners be freed and key government players who allegedly, according to the organizers, played roles behind the scenes in the violent crashes which ensued that day be brought to justice.

The only reason I can think of for the beefed up security is that police are in search of familiar pro-opposition faces, those perhaps suspected of being sympathizers of Levon Ter-Petrossian, the opposition leader, and possible activist mobilizers. There are currently well over a hundred people in jail arrested on suspicion without any proof of their having committed any crimes, including former ministers and officials who served under Ter-Petrossian's tenure as the country's president. But opposition activists are generally harmless and have always dictated that their protests be conducted peacefully, without unrest. The events of March 1 got out of their own control, yet many oppositionists have been blamed for the violence, while those same individuals accuse the authorities for inciting the clashes. The ominous lurking of police officers are turning people off and making them more suspicious of the government than ever before. Some people are even referring to Armenia as being a "police state." Personally I am having a hard time lately disagreeing with such sentiments.

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