Leading NGOs call for police chief’s dismissal after military cemetery arrests

By Mark Dovich

35 leading Armenian non-governmental organizations called for Vahe Ghazaryan, Armenia’s police chief, to be dismissed in a joint statement Thursday after officers detained relatives of soldiers killed in the 2020 Karabakh (Artsakh) war the day prior for attempting to prevent senior officials from holding a ceremony to mark Armenia’s independence at a major military cemetery.

“It is unacceptable for the Armenian police leadership to issue and execute orders to carry out illegal actions using force against citizens,” the NGOs said, noting that “there are credible reports that some of the parents of the fallen servicemen were physically injured during the operation.”

“Issuing orders to commit violence against the family members of servicemen who died for the defense of the country and to illegally deprive them of their freedom also crosses all moral boundaries,” the statement continued.

The NGOs said they would consider “full responsibility for the illegal use of force against the relatives of the fallen servicemen…to fall on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan himself” if he does not dismiss Ghazaryan, adding that “prosecuting those who issued the orders…will be a serious indicator of the independence of Armenia’s judicial system.”

Videos showing officers detaining about three dozen people at Yerablur, Armenia’s main military cemetery, before Pashinyan and other officials arrived for an independence day ceremony Wednesday quickly went viral online. Many Armenian social media users decried both the decision to make the detentions and the excessive force some officers showed.

All those who had been detained were released after Pashinyan and other officials held a wreath-laying ceremony at the cemetery.

The police defended its actions in a statement Wednesday, adding that Ghazaryan would launch an internal inquiry into the matter.

Kristinne Grigoryan, Armenia’s Human Rights Defender, said Wednesday her office would conduct its own investigation, noting her staff would “demand detailed clarifications from the police, including regarding the actions of individual officers.

“In any case, and especially in such sensitive and emotionally charged situations, police officers must act strictly proportionally and refrain from such physical force. The opposite is unacceptable,” Grigoryan said.

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