Premier Pashinyan on May 22

Armenian Ruling Party Members Warn Karabakh Refugees


By Naira Bulghadarian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Several members of Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party and other loyalists of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan have said that refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh participating in opposition rallies in Yerevan must be denied government aid.

Their veiled threats made on social media in recent days follow a series of anti-government protests sparked by Azerbaijan’s September 19-20 military offensive in Karabakh that forced its practically entire population to flee to Armenia. Pashinyan’s political team is reportedly worried that many of the 100,000 or so refugees could join protests organized by Armenian opposition forces blaming the prime minister for the mass exodus and demanding his resignation.

“Deport Karabakh people taking part in demonstrations!” Tatul Asilyan, a Civil Contract member, said in a weekend Facebook post.

“I’m saying this as a citizen of Armenia. an Artsakh Armenian who takes part in demonstrations must be stripped of all kinds of assistance,” wrote Ani Vartazaryan, a village mayor also affiliated with Pashinyan’s party.

Stella Sarukhanyan, a woman who claims to “represent” Pashinyan’s wife Anna Hakobyan, issued an even more ominous warning to refugees taking part in “demonstrations ruining Armenia.”

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“Their names will be registered and their families will be stripped of state support. This, according to rumors circulating in the air,” she wrote.

Sarukhanyan defended her post when she spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on October 2.

“I read the news and shared it so that my Artsakh Armenian friends saw it,” she said. “If it’s not true, that’s even better… I just can’t understand all this fuss.”

Neither the Armenian government nor Civil Contract commented on the threats and an uprising caused by them. Human rights activists said they ran counter to Armenia’s constitution guaranteeing freedom of assembly.

“They [Pashinyan’s entourage] include people who have been educated abroad and speak several languages. They know this [constitutional provision,]” said Vartan Harutiunian, a veteran civic activist.

“This means that there was such talk among them, and a couple of them, who are more outspoken, came out with such public statements,” he said. “If there is no public backlash, then you may see not two, three or four but 20, 30 or 50 such social media posts. They are still deterred by the public’s rebukes.”

Amram Makinian, a well-known lawyer critical of the government, petitioned prosecutors to launch criminal proceedings against Vartazarian, the village chief. Makinian said that her calls constituted a criminal offense. A spokesman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that it is looking into his “crime report.”

Another law-enforcement agency, the Investigative Committee, raised eyebrows last week when it repeatedly stated that many of the protesters clashing with riot police in Yerevan and prosecuted as a result are Karabakh Armenians. Critics accused the committee headed by one of Pashinyan’s trusted lieutenants of violating Armenia’s anti-discrimination laws.



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