By Naira Bulghadarian
RFE/RL Armenian Service
Armenia’s law-enforcement authorities have published the list of the types of stun grenades and other “special means” of crowd control that were used in dispersing public protests during the recent standoff over a seized police station in Yerevan, insisting that all of the relevant non-lethal devices can be applied “legitimately” under an order of the health minister.
But a local activist claims the police have at least violated the standards for the safe use of these special means set out by the minister, inflicting injuries on dozens of civilians particularly on the night of July 29.
Since July 17, when a group of armed men attacked and seized a police station in Yerevan’s Erebuni district, setting the stage for a 15-day-long standoff with security forces, hundreds of civil and political activists as well as ordinary citizens virtually on a nightly basis held rallies outside the venue of the special police operation to ensure that no force was used against the gunmen who were presenting political demands to the country’s leadership.
A large number of protesters openly supported the Sasna Tsrer (Daredevils of Sassoun) group, claiming that despite the violent means chosen by the gunmen that by that time had already killed one police officer, the people holed up inside the police compound, some of whom were veterans of the 1992-94 Nagorno-Karabakh war, were not “terrorists”.
In the standoff that also included hostage-taking another police officer was killed by a sniper shot allegedly fired by one of the gunmen. Over the weekend one of the several police officers wounded during the attack on the compound succumbed to his wounds without regaining consciousness in hospital.
Riot police were used on a nightly basis near the area cordoned off by security forces and in some other city locations throughout the crisis. Clashes between protesters and security personnel, in particular, happened on the nights of July 20 and July 29.
The police were then, in particular, accused of using excessive force against participants of the July 29 rally in Sari Tagh, a Yerevan neighborhood overlooking the standoff area where police relations with local residents had grown particularly tense because of the special operation.
More than six dozen citizens and several police officers were injured in Sari Tagh and in Khorenatsi Street, the main venue of public rallies, when riot police used stun grenades, flash bangs and sound bombs to clear the protests. One teenager lost an eye due to an injury received on that night. Also, several journalists covering the events were hurt as a result.
According to the information released by the Armenian Police, a total of 74 grenades were used against protesters on July 20 and July 29 and all of them were included in the list of means approved for use by the country’s health authorities.
In particular, on the mentioned nights the riot police used Zarya-3, Fakel S, Drofa and Plamya M as well as 19 Svirel flash and sound bombs.
Meanwhile, Daniel Ioannisian, the head of the Association of Informed Citizen, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that at least half of the means used by police potentially could and did cause shrapnel injuries.
Ioannisian said after analyzing the information provided by the police and comparing it with the standards approved by the health minister, he arrived at the conclusion that the police had violated the minister’s order by failing to comply with the established criteria.
“Even the norms that the policemen could follow were also broken. For example, there are grenades that can safely be exploded at least at a distance of 2.5 meters from a person, but we saw that they were exploding at closer distances,” the activist claimed.
Ioannisian also countered the police statements that the use of special means was justified.
The head of the Association of Informed Citizens said: “First of all, the police did not care to take any measures to try to isolate the aggressive demonstrators or instigators… They immediately resorted to their special means and in doing so were not seeking to protect the peaceful demonstrators.”
In a letter, the police explained that it is expedient to take measures to isolate separate “aggressive demonstrators” only if their number is small. Meanwhile, according to the police, a large number of people with “aggressive behavior” took part in the protests in question.