WASHINGTON -- Three Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists were assaulted in Armenia over the weekend during mass rallies against Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian that culminated in his resignation today.
“These attacks against journalists doing their jobs are unacceptable,” said RFE/RL President Thomas Kent. “The fact that police have been among the perpetrators, or have abetted them, is especially disturbing, and we call for swift and appropriate measures to ensure they are held accountable.”
On April 22, a balaclava-clad police officer assaulted Naira Bulghadarian, a reporter with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, known locally as Radio Azatutyun. He damaged the camera she was using to live-stream events from Yerevan’s central Republic Square, a focal point of the protests, disrupting the broadcast for the service’s Radio Azatutyun TV. Bulghadarian immediately complained to the deputy chief of Yerevan’s police department, who was coordinating police actions at the scene and told her to point out the attacker and “we will punish him.”
One day earlier, broadcast producer Anatoly Yeghiazarian was pushed to the ground, kicked in the stomach, and beaten by police officers while using his phone to film an effort by about 50 police to disperse cars that protesters had positioned to block a square in a southern Yerevan district. Yeghiazarian says he was attacked, despite showing the police his RFE/RL press badge and repeatedly stating his media affiliation.
That same day, correspondent Arus Hakobian was assaulted and injured by a man in plainclothes while she was live-streaming a protest on a highway about 30 kilometers south of Yerevan. The incident was caught on video, which shows police officers at the scene doing nothing to stop the attacker, despite Hakobian’s repeated shrieks. Armenia’s office of the Prosecutor-General has said it has ordered an inquiry.
The U.S. Embassy in Armenia expressed concern “over reports of violence against journalists and demonstrators” on April 22, and called for accountability for those responsible.
Protesters began massing 11 days ago, as Sarkisian prepared to take up the newly powerful post of prime minister on April 17, returning to the country's helm less than two weeks after his 10-year stint as president ended.
In a direct statement to the country on April 23, he said he was stepping down in response to calls from protest leader Nikol Pashinian and the demonstrators.
"The movement of the street is against my tenure. I am fulfilling your demand," Sarkisian said in a statement on the prime minister's website.
RFE/RL’s Armenian Service has been a leading provider of independent information for 65 years. A pioneer in innovative journalism, the Service’s YouTube page is among the top five YouTube channels in Armenia, with nearly 130,000 subscribers and 164 million total lifetime video views, according to Socialbakers.