Human rights monitors are concerned over political violence and the continuing state of emergency in Armenia. Thousands of Armenians took part in protests in Yerevan following the country’s presidential elections in February. Clashes between demonstrators and police reportedly left eight people dead and over one hundred injured. Outgoing President Robert Kocharian imposed a state of emergency, including a ban on demonstrations. Dozens of protestors were detained, many are still being held and others being sought.
Holly Cartner of Human Rights Watch called on the Armenian government to “swiftly investigate whether the police and army used lethal force against protestors in accordance with international standards.” The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom monitor, urged the government to lift restrictions on independent news reporting and end censorship of news web sites. “We’re alarmed by this blatant attempt to censor news of the disputed election,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Director Joel Simon.
Arpi Vartanian is country director for the Armenian Assembly of America, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization. Speaking from Yerevan, Ms. Vartanian says Armenians want a peaceful, democratic resolution of the issues:
“Everybody wants this to end peacefully. We are so saddened by the loss of life that took place on Saturday. Dialogue is critical. We want the rule of law to be adhered to. We are really hopeful that the court system, the legal system, will play a major role here and that it will be an impartial judicial process.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack issued a statement calling “on all sides to avoid further violence, act fully within the law, exercise maximum restraint, and resume political dialogue.” Unlawful actions such as violence and looting only worsen the situation and must stop. The U.S. also hopes the state of emergency will be lifted promptly. “Political dialogue,” said Mr. McCormack, “is the best way for all concerned Armenians to demonstrate responsible leadership and support for the future of Armenia and democracy.”