Protests erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert over the weekend after two men were allegedly beaten up by a group of members of the National Security Service. Protesters were initially demanding the alleged attackers be prosecuted, but these demands have now extended to the dismissals of the heads of all law enforcement and security agencies, excluding the Defence Army.
Protesters continued to block off the central Freedom Fighters Avenue on Monday, in a fourth day of protests, according to local news agency Artsakh Press. One of the protest leaders, Davit Simonyan, addressed the crowd to relay the results of their meeting with President Bako Sahakyan the previous day.
Simonyan said the president promised to make changes in security agencies, but that their demands were ‘not completely accepted by the president’.
‘Bako Sahakyan promised to undertake systematic improvements, which will be connected not with changes of officials but with changes in the general policy and daily work’, Artsakh Press quoted him as saying, adding that they must now decide to what extent they are satisfied with these conditions.
The protesters have demanded the resignations of Chief Prosecutor Artur Mosiyan, head of police Kamo Aghajanyan, and head of the State Security Service Arshavir Gharamyan.
Hayk Khanumyan, the leader and sole MP from the opposition National Revival Party also addressed protesters, telling them their demands were ‘acceptable’
Nagorno-Karabakh’s Ombudsman Ruben Melikyan said he hoped the measures the government had already taken would have quick results.
‘The government responded by arresting the participants of the incident and meeting the protesters to discuss their complaints. Many high-ranking officials, including the president, met the protesters. Also, a special commission is to be established in the National Assembly [Nagorno-Karabakh’s parliament] to investigate the wrongs of the past’, Melikyan told OC Media.
The Ombudsman’s Office is charged with upholding human rights in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Authorities also released a video on Sunday purporting to show the two men who were beaten up instigating the fight. According to Melikyan, the recording ‘shows two citizens beating a serviceman, after which some colleagues of the serviceman arrived and began to beat the two civilians’.
Melikyan added that while ‘some protesters claim that similar incidents have occurred in the past’ they could not confirm this as the Ombudsman’s Office ‘has not received any complaints about such issues.’
Four days of protests
Protests began on Friday evening after a group of around 15 members of the security services allegedly beat up two civilians in what was reportedly a personal dispute. Armenian media reported that police stood by at the scene as the attack took place, arresting the victims of the assault and not the attackers.
According to a statement released by police the following day, police responded at 19:25 to an incident that occurred 10 minutes earlier, and 15 people were arrested.
According to Civil Net, chants of ‘Nikol, Nikol’ could be heard on Friday evening, referring to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who was swept to power on the back of mass protests a month ago.
After hundreds gathered on Saturday, State Minister Arayik Harutyunyan addressed the crowd promising the authorities would take action.
‘There is a strict order from the President to all of the members of the government, to all officials, to take into account all justified grievances and demands, and to respond to them. In addition, a working group has been created in the National Assembly, because this shouldn’t just be the responsibility of the Executive Branch, which will address past and present grievances and demands and mistakes’, CivilNet quoted him as saying.
On Sunday, Stepanakert’s central avenue was again blocked by protesters, with News.am quoting Vladimir Dolukhanyan, a member of the board of the National Revival Party, as saying that around 500 demonstrators had assembled.
According to Hetq, some protesters had begun to widen their demands, including the release of political prisoners in Armenia and calls to unite with Armenia.
A pro-government counter-rally was also held in Stepanakert on Sunday, organised by the Karabakh veterans’ association, according to EurasiaNet editor Joshua Kucera.
Responding to the protests, the Defence Ministry released a statement on Sunday calling for calm. ‘Accepting the absolute supremacy of the constitutional rights of every citizen and considering any form of violence unacceptable and deplorable, the Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] Republic Defence Ministry urges people to refrain from dangerous steps artificially aggravating the internal political situation of our country under external threats and to consider solving the issue solely on a legal basis’, the statement said.
Accusations of impunity from law enforcement emerged earlier in 2018 when in March, an Armenian citizen claimed police in Stepanakert ‘psychologically and physically abused’ her during multiple ‘illegal detentions’ in Stepanakert. She alleged her treatment was because as a woman she smoked and because of the way she looked.
In 2016, CivilNet reported that opposition MP Hayk Khanumyan was beaten by men in military uniforms, allegedly for his criticism of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.