YEREVAN (A.W.)—Inauguration day in Armenia on April 9 culminated in clashes with police just blocks from the Presidential Palace.
Thousands of supporters of Raffi Hovannisian—the opposition challenger who claimed victory in the presidential elections—followed him en masse into the streets after his evening rally at Freedom Square, where he announced he will be heading to the presidential headquarters.
“Together, hand in hand, we are going to Baghramyan 26 [the presidential palace] which belongs to us,” announced Hovannisian at Freedom Square.
Those attending the rally flooded the streets of Yerevan, where they shut down traffic and stood head to head with riot police who blocked the main thoroughfare leading to the President’s residence.
Intermittent clashes ensued as the police stood in a line blocking the procession from moving beyond the corner of Baghramyan and Isahakyan streets. After several minutes of negotiations, Hovannisian, together with the head of police, began walking in the opposite direction toward the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Dzidzernagapert. There, he held a candlelight vigil and prayed for a new Armenia.
Meanwhile a large segment of the protestors remained behind in a standoff with the police, refusing to change their intended destination: the presidential palace. Despite repeated warnings to disperse, much of the crowd stood their ground into the late evening.
Hovannisian returned to the standoff hours later, negotiating with police once more, and was eventually allowed to lead the remaining protestors toward the presidential palace in a peaceful march.
“While I am still here, nobody should take unilateral steps,” Hovannisian told the crowd. “We are going to move forward together peacefully. Anyone who does not do so is a saboteur.”
The tense confrontation followed a daylong string of actions protesting the presidential inauguration of Serge Sarkisian, who was officially sworn into his second term.
In his earlier “alternative” inauguration gathering in Freedom Square, Hovannisian struck a much more reserved tone, as he labeled Sarkisian’s reelection illegitimate and invited the crowd to another rally on April 12 to discuss future steps geared toward challenging the Yerevan municipal elections in May.
Chants of “Now! Now!” could be heard among the visibly disgruntled crowd that called for a swift and immediate challenge to the presidential election they deemed fraudulent.
This disappointment expressed by the crowd at noon was most likely the motivating factor behind the much bolder, unexpected march, and standoff initiated by Hovannisian during the evening rally.
The Armenian Weekly correspondent in Yerevan filed this report and the accompanying photos.