Armenia left reeling as scores injured in clashes at anti-government protests

By Mark Dovich

A large anti-government protest outside Armenia’s parliament ended Wednesday in dramatic clashes with police, leaving at least 101 people injured in some of the worst scenes of violence Yerevan has seen in years.

What happened?

Large crowds began gathering Wednesday afternoon on Baghramyan Avenue, a major Yerevan thoroughfare, in a failed attempt to prevent Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, whom demonstrators are calling on to resign immediately, from attending a key budget hearing. Demonstrators were greeted by an unusually large police presence, including officers armed with lethal force.

As the evening progressed, tensions rose between protesters and police officers, including instances of demonstrators throwing bottles and other blunt objects at law enforcement. In response, police fired at least two dozen stun grenades in an effort to disperse the crowds.

In the ensuing chaos, at least 101 people were injured, according to the Health Ministry, which did not distinguish between protesters and police officers in its tally. That included Narek Hayryan, a CivilNet camera operator, who suffered light injuries to his leg and head as he livestreamed the developments.

At least 86 other people were detained, according to police figures.

Meanwhile in parliament, the hearing briefly devolved into brawls between ruling party and opposition lawmakers after Pashinyan gave a speech highly critical of Nagorno-Karabakh’s former leadership.

What’s been the reaction?

Pashinyan and other senior officials quickly moved to defend law enforcement, with the prime minister calling the police response “proportionate and professional.”

In sharp contrast, Bagrat Galstanyan, the archbishop-turned-protest leader, decried officers’ actions as “terrorism” and pledged to continue rallying his supporters in an effort to remove Pashinyan from power.

Likewise, the governing body of Armenia’s national church condemned what it called “clearly illegal steps and measures taken against peaceful protesters.”

For its part, the office of Armenia’s Human Rights Defender urged law enforcement to conduct independent probes into every credible allegation of disproportionate use of force. As of Friday afternoon, no officers had been criminally charged.

The police blocked the way of the participants of the ‘Tavush for the Motherland’ movement to the National Assembly building

What’s next?

Following Wednesday’s clashes, Galstanyan and his supporters moved Thursday morning to Yerevan’s central Republic Square, outside a government building where Pashinyan was set to hold his weekly cabinet meeting. As crowds gathered, Pashinyan postponed the meeting to Friday.

After an hours-long sit-in on Republic Square that remained largely peaceful despite a heavy police presence, Galstanyan led his followers back to Baghramyan Avenue to prepare for another rally Thursday evening.

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