Hetq speaks to Hayk Khanoumyan, president of the Azgayin Veratznound (National Renaissance) political party of Artsakh regarding the January 31 attack on an automobile convoy of political opposition activists from Armenia as they entered Artsakh.
Hayk, were you expecting such a thing to happen or did it come as a surprise? How did you find out about the incident that took place near Berdzor?
For days, the authorities had been manipulating Artsakh public opinion, trying to make the car convoy and its participants into monsters. And they were playing with the most sensitive of all issues for Artsakh residents; that of security. (According to reports, the authorities had told residents that the participants had called on young men in Armenia not to militarily serve in Artsakh – VS)
They were preaching hate towards those who initiated the car convoy and its supporters. I expected violence, but not to this degree. The first victims of violence were the Founding Parliament supporters who traveled to Berdzor from Stepanakert. I heard about the attack when these individuals had just been transferred to hospital.
Before the convoy, Artsakh government authorities had met with representatives of the Founding Parliament organization, urging them to call off the convoy. Later, the Artsakh Freedom Fighters Union declared the convoy illegal and that they would voice their opposition to the event. The convoy participants described the convoy as an informative action where CDs would be handed out and that a meeting with Artsakh students would be held. Is the public sector and internal situation in Artsakh so fragile that such a car convoy could pose some kind of danger, as argued by local authorities?
The Artsakh authorities are afraid of everything – every unsupervised word, every Facebook post by a student, or protest.
The authorities are trying to create a closed-mouth society in which they can continue to enrich them and rule through unparalleled corruption. The state propaganda machine is even used against the smallest undesirable Facebook post, discrediting them as ‘the enemy behind the mountain’.
We have to remember that this is the last term of Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan. Thus, there’s an internal contest being waged to win favor with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan amongst the possible presidential contenders for the next election. Even Bako Sahakyan is involved in an attempt to remain in office until the end of his tenure in 2017.
Serzh Sargsyan doesn’t look favorably on any expression of criticism addressed to him emanating from Artsakh. Consequently, he fuels the fire of this contest between Artsakh authorities. This policy led to the unprecedented embarrassment that took place on January 31.
The Artsakh Police issued a statement arguing that the convoy had elicited widespread negative reactions in the public and that a large segment of the populace had decided to prevent the convoy from entering Artsakh. Even though the police had seized cameras on the scene, video clips clearly show how armed Special Forces and the police, along with individuals wearing civilian clothes sporting armbands attacked the participants and their cars with truncheons. Reports claim that local authorities had urged Berdzor residents to come out into the streets but that they had refused. Thus, the police assumed the task. In your opinion, had the police done their duty and escorted the convoy, would a confrontation have taken place between convoy participants and average citizens in Berdzor, Stepanakert, or elsewhere?
Let me note that most Artsakh residents weren’t even aware of the Founding Parliament or the Pre-Parliament organization. Had the convoy been allowed to pass, most local residents would have mistaken it for a wedding party. The ‘negative reaction’ argument was created on the orders of the Artsakh authorities themselves.
On January 31, I met with some freedom fighters that had come to Berdzor on orders to oppose the convoy. They cursed the authorities for misleading them and getting them involved in such a embarrassing situation.
Today (this interview was conducted on Feb. 1 – VS), residents of various Kashatagh villages telephoned me and expressed the same views. It must be stressed that a large segment of the populace – freedom fighters, representatives of youth organizations, civil servants and police – are the direct victims of a huge conspiracy hatched by the Artsakh authorities and President Bako Sahakyan in particular.
Hayk, nevertheless, we should note that only a few prominent individuals that were never pro-government and you party publicly condemned what took place from the get-go. Is it that other political forces and average Artsakh residents are so fearful of speaking out? Or is it the case that, on the whole, there is no diversity of opinion, either politically or publicly, in Artsakh, especially since there are posts in the social media justifying the actions of the attacker?
Sadly, representatives of the parties seated in the Artsakh parliament (Azat Hayrenik, ARF, and Democratic Party of Artsakh) also participated in the demonization of the process. But there are also posts in the social media, especially by the new generation, that have condemned what took place.
You correctly note that there haven’t been many statements by political organizations criticizing the attack. But the regional representatives of our party, which has a wide following in Artsakh and an initial presence n 85 communities, are constantly telephoning me to express their indignation.
Can we assume, based on the statements made by the police and the presidential spokesman justifying the actions of law enforcement as legal, that those who participated in the violence will go unpunished in the eyes of the law?
Bako Sahakyan ordered the violence. The police are predisposed to take a do-nothing approach.
Yesterday I went to the hospital to see our injured friends. For a whole hour, the hospital administration refused to file a police report even though it had admitted four individuals who were clearly beaten. Finally, one of the injured, Kerob Ghazaryan, telephoned the police and reported what had happened to him.
This entire situation goes to show that there will be no accountability.
Photo: Hayk Khanoumyan, Bako Sahakyan