Who Got Beat Up in Berdzor? A Look at PreParliament

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On January 31, law enforcement officials of the Artsakh Republic damaged the cars and beat up members of a group called PreParliament. The incident took place in a remote, mostly uninhabited part of Berdzor in western Artsakh, near the Republic of Armenia’s border.

According to video footage, a procession of cars organized by PreParliament was stopped shortly after entering the Artsakh Republic. Officials say the reason the vehicles were stopped was because there were groups on the other side of the barricade waiting for the members of PreParliament. When they were told to turn back, the confrontation erupted into an assault on the vehicles and some members of the group by the Artsakh state police. The president of Artsakh, Bako Sahakyan, has ordered a thorough investigation of the incident.

It is unclear exactly what happened to set off the large assembly of law enforcement officials who suddenly took issue with something not discernable from the soundless video released by PreParliament. Whatever the details, law enforcement was wrong to attack the group. Such behavior sets a bad precedent and whether it was a simple disagreement or a reaction to verbal provocation, neither are acceptable grounds to throw discipline to the wind and resort to physical attack.

To see PreParliament, however, as a bunch of peaceniks subject to the heavy hand of the law while they were minding their own business would be a mistake.

Who is PreParliament?

Currently operating under several names, PreParliament, an offshoot of the defunct Sardarabad Movement, was created in 2012. It is an amalgam of disgruntled citizens who have spent the past few years disparaging Armenia in a march toward their not-so-subtle objective of overthrowing Armenia’s government – violently, if necessary.

In 2014, PreParliament – now interchangeably called Founding Parliament because, according to one of its “coordinator,” Garegin Chugaszyan, they are in the second phase of their activities – launched a program called “The Centennial without this regime.” The centennial to which they’re referring is the 100 year anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide, April 24, 2015. Their objective is to remove Armenia’s government, from power on that day.

In case there is any confusion about the plan, PreParliament is intending to subvert the government of Armenia on the centennial anniversary of the most solemn day of the year for Armenians. Nobody in the organization, which includes Artsakh War veterans Jirayr Sefilyan and Pavel Manukyan, seems wise to how profoundly distasteful it is to usurp the memorial of the greatest loss of life in Armenian history and turn it into political theater. It’s like an Armenian Tet Offensive except without the element of surprise and colored by a distinctively offensive tint.

Perhaps not wanting to spread itself too thin, the group’s activities have largely been rebranded under the “Centennial without this regime” banner although they maintain the PreParliament website and refer to themselves as Founding Parliament (for which they have also launched a separate website.)

Centennial without this regime - The Armenite

“Centennial without this regime”

Among Heroes

The core belief of PreParliament/Founding Parliament/ “The Centennial without this regime” is that the government must be removed and a “stable democracy” be put in place. The rest is murky. But, listening to their interviews and following their less deliberate statements, one can glean an idea of how they see themselves.

A common refrain by the group’s members is a rehearsed line about their commitment to nonviolence – right before they sound off conditions under which they would be forced to use violence. In one stark example, during a press conference by “The Centennial without this regime” on December 3, 2014, a leader of PreParliament, Gevorg Safaryan, speaking about Armenia’s government, said that “they are worthy of elimination.”

Safaryan continued to say that, “If we see that we are unable to achieve our goals by peaceful means, we will then turn to force,” adding that, “Today, in our country, there are dozens, hundreds of youth who are ready to take up arms.” He then turned to “warn the regime,” specifying that it was not a threat because “they don’t need to make threats: if it needs to be done, it will be done.”

He ends by hypothesizing about the murder of Samvel Aleksanyan, Ruben Hayrapetyan, and Sashik Sargsyan, President Serzh Sargsyan’s brother. Using the word in Armenian to describe the killing of an animal, he posits that their murders would spur a popular zeal like the one felt among Armenians when Soghomon Tehlirian assassinated Talaat Pasha, the chief organizer of the Armenian Genocide.

After Safaryan was done, Chugaszyan, seated next to him, said, “‘The Centennial without this regime’ is a peaceful movement.”

It wasn’t the first time that the group drew parallels between itself and heroes of the Armenian Nation. On May 24, 2014, Tigran Khzmalyan, a prominent member of PreParliament, responding to an alleged statement made by a government official about the possible deportation of Sefilyan, said, “They tried to deport [General] Antranig and [Garegin] Nzhdeh, too.”

“Trust Us”

The main activity of the group seems to get people angry enough to join them. It has nicer websites than most political parties in Armenia and it is updated with some regularity with news and videos on YouTube, mostly of its members giving press conferences about the dire state of everything in Armenia. As with most groups whose focus is on rhetoric rather than actual work that puts its model on full display, the audience is expected to presume that if PreParliament succeeds, things will get better. “How?” is a question for another day.

Browsing the website, it appears their members have an uncanny predilection to getting beat up – the face and head apparently being the most popular targets. Fortunately, though, they seem to never be so seriously injured that they’re unable to give an interview shortly afterward, on camera, while recounting the grisly details of whatever happened. There are several videos and images of members wrapped in head bandages and although there is never any evidence, the conclusion, invariably, is that the government is responsible. Why or how more conspicuous government critics who are unaffiliated with the group have escaped the regular beatings suffered by PreParliament is a mystery.

They have even reached out to the Diaspora through a network of chapters of an organization calling itself Armenian Renaissance. Their purported goal is to try and win the hearts, minds, and mostly dollars of the Diaspora. For a group trying to endear itself to new supporters, however, some members of Armenian Renaissance have the curious tendency of trying to convince the Diaspora to become involved in their work by telling them how worthless they are for not being involved.

Victims Now, Victimizers Later?

Although PreParliament is relishing its role as the victim, which they were in this case, they must be oblivious to the absurdity of condemning a much subdued type of violence than what they were promoting no more than two months ago. At best, they are in the same camp as their attackers, willing to resort to violence to resolve their problems. Another perspective is that they are worse because of their stated willingness to use arms and violence to get what they want.

Some have asked why PreParliament was traveling to Artsakh in the first place. After all, their goal is to subvert the government of the Republic of Armenia, not the Artsakh Republic. In apparent anticipation of this question, “The Centennial without this regime” released statements and images on its Facebook page in December with the title, “Artsakh is Armenia and that’s it!” Although it’s true that Armenia comprises the Republic of Armenia and the Artsakh Republic, the fact remains that they are currently two separate countries with different governments. So, why were they going there? Others have questioned what they may have done to provoke the police officers. As previously mentioned, it’s unclear from the video why the police suddenly reacted with such outrage.

The answers to these questions are important but they cannot and will not justify the actions of the police. The commanders who were responsible for the unruliness in Berdzor should be disciplined, as should anyone who was an identifiable participant in the melee.

As for PreParliament, what remains to be seen as they prepare to overthrow Armenia’s government is how the Armenian Nation will respond when the memory of its martyrs is wantonly defiled. On April 24, 2015, we’ll know.

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16 Comments

  1. You mention the following:

    “There are several videos and images of members wrapped in head bandages and although there is never any evidence, the conclusion, invariably, is that the government is responsible. Why or how more conspicuous government critics who are unaffiliated with the group have escaped the regular beatings suffered by PreParliament is a mystery.”

    Did you forget the video this entire article is based off? Maybe Pre Parliament isn’t the answer but what you are doing here is instead of condemning the government for it’s oppression of free speech and assembly, you have spent the majority of your article degrading Pre Parliament and emphasizing their radicalism. I like your writing but sometimes your protection of the current government really frustrates me.

    • William Bairamian
      William Bairamian on

      Thank you, Sev, for your kind comment about liking my writing. Otherwise, no, I did not forget about the video. Indeed, I straightforwardly state, more than once, that what the authorities did was wrong and not just that, that those responsible should be disciplined.

      What is it in this piece or in my writing that represents my “protection of the current government”? And assuming you’re referring to the Republic of Armenia’s government, what does it have to do with the incident at Berdzor?

      • I think we would be kidding ourselves if we thought the Armenian government wasn’t the same entity as the NKR government. And therefore, these attacks committed by NKR security forces was the work of the Armenian government.

        When I referred to your protection of the gov, I was talking not only about this article but also the impression I have gotten from reading your work on the TheGampr.

        I know you haven’t forgotten about your video. But in that context this line you’ve written is absurd: “There are several videos and images of members wrapped in head bandages and although there is NEVER ANY EVIDENCE, the conclusion, invariably, is that the government is responsible.”

        I don’t want to get too conspiracy theorist here. But maybe consciously or subconsciously, I feel like this article is an attempt to belittle and brand the group as radicals as a means of smoothening the publicity damage done by the release of these videos.

        • William Bairamian
          William Bairamian on

          You say that’s not what you want but that’s exactly what you’re doing. I prefer to have a debate based on facts, which you’ve yet to provide. Thank you for your comments but please spare me and, more importantly, a new generation of Armenians not riddled with the plague of a conspiratorial mind these sorts of fatuous insinuations.

  2. Magna Carta.
    The Constitution of United States.
    The Bill of Rights.
    A country of 310+ million.
    Surrounded by vast oceans East and West, and very friendly, peaceful neighbors North and South.
    A country which has not been invaded by a foreign power for more than two centuries.
    A singular military and economic superpower.
    Absolutely immune to any real danger from any country or entity in the entire world.

    Yet.

    Cops in New Mexico smash the windows of minivan and open fire.
    Minivan is driven by a mother, with 5 of her children inside.
    http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/mexico-cops-heart-sank-shooting-minivan-21569544

    Indiana police smash car window, Taser passenger.
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/oct/08/window-smashed-stun-gun-taser-indiana-police-video

    Don’t know about other countries, but here in United States if Police Officer tells you to turn around and go away, you obey, or you will be arrested – if you are lucky.
    If they order you to get out of the car, you get out.
    If they order you to stay in the car, you stay.
    You mouth off to a cop – you will be beaten to a pulp.
    And then you will be arrested, and charged with: 1) Disobeying a lawful order by a sworn peace officer. 2) Disturbing the peace. 3) Resisting arrest. 4) Assault & battery on a police officer.

    The Law in US invariably gives the presumption to the law enforcement officer.
    And the law gives cops the legal right to initiate use of force to obtain compliance and enforce the law.

  3. Hovsep Hajibekyan on

    I generally like how your thoughtful articles add to the conversation (whether I agree or not is irrelevant). But this one seems a well-written apologist piece for illegitimate, deliberate, unconstitutional actions of the government. Let’s not be naive, please. This was a deliberate, well-planned punishment for the minor pests that PreParliament have become. And a warning to others. The conversation about ‘there will be investigations’, ‘it is unclear how the protesters provoked the police’ etc are ludicrous (or willfully ignorant at best).

    A proper (if admittedly simplistic) metaphor for your article: “The rape victim is far less than a saint. In fact, the rape victim is promiscuous and was wearing a short skirt. And she has terrible taste in words. More than that! The victim said that she may victimize others to get her way one day. (Add many more paragraphs in vein).

    Oh and yeah, the victimizer is wrong. The circumstances are unclear. An investigation has been ordered’

    I’d like to hear your thoughts about why the rulers felt threatened enough to do this? Why not let the peaceful protesters go through? Then arrest them en masse if they actually cause a disturbance. Freedom of speech? Freedom of movement? Something about the rule of law? Why break car windows as they turn back?

    • William Bairamian
      William Bairamian on

      I’m glad you enjoy my articles, Hovsep. Thanks for your comment. To answer some of your concerns, I’d like to start with pointing out that I stated in the piece, in no uncertain terms, that there are no justifications for what the police did, that they were wrong for what they did, and that they should be disciplined. How that translates into being an apologist piece you’ll have to explain to me.

      You make many confident statements about what this was (e.g. “deliberate, well-planned punishment”) but that’s nothing more than a hypothesis. If you have proof of that, however, I’m at the ready to consider it.

      The rape analogy is a striking but false one and, nevertheless, incongruous. But, since you wanted to use this analogy, I’ll tell you what would’ve been an accurate parallel. What I did was that I said rape is wrong, rape is unjustifiable, and rape should be punished. I also raised no question about whether the rape occurred. Not in the least, actually. When I discussed the character of the rape victim, whatever the victim’s shortcomings, I returned to my original assertion that rape is unacceptable and the rapist should be punished.

      Finally, your points are all based on the supposition of an omnipotent, omnipresent government. It’s your right to believe that. My (admittedly self-assigned) task is to ask questions, not agree with everyone’s assumptions. That may suggest naivety to you. For me, it’s a means of gaining understanding.

  4. Hratch Tchaghatzbanian on

    By reading the title of this article, I was expecting to learn a bit about PreParliament. And I did. But only the bad things. This article made the members sound like a group of (“disgruntled”) fanatical militiamen that have no clear criticism of government and that are out to have an armed resistance.

    If that’s what you were going for, you achieved it. If not, you might have wanted to mention the fact that the party’s leader, Jirair Sefilian, is a respected war hero who has been continually persecuted by Sarkissian. He has been imprisoned for showing strong opposition, and was denied citizenship in RoA (even though he left his birthplace to come and fight for the liberation of Artsakh). And the incident that happened last week can justifiably be interpreted as just another instance of that persecution.

    But hey… opinion, opinions. You write exceptionally well. Always nice to read your work. Cheers.

    • Jirayr broke his Fedayi oath, he threatened to turned his gun against hi fellow Armenian.
      Apart from Jiro, we have 60 thousand war heroes, as we speak they are guarding our homeland’s border. All respect to them

    • William Bairamian
      William Bairamian on

      Thanks for your comment, Hratch. I also appreciate your thoughts about my writing. As to your points, first, this was not a news report and The Armenite does not report the news. So, yes, what I wrote is (fact-based) commentary and analysis, which is part of what we do here. That’s why although I could have written what you wanted about Sefilyan’s supposed relationship with President Sargsyan, I wouldn’t because it’s not true. Indeed, quite the opposite is true and PreParliament’s existence and free reign to openly call for the overthrow of the government which Sargsyan heads without any evident persecution is counter to what you’re suggesting. I’ve even read that Sargsyan has spoken about Sefilyan’s citizenship application (which was denied before Sargsyan became president) and has said that they would closely consider an application but they can’t because Sefilyan has not reapplied.

      In the end, any attempt to convey information will be incomplete – not even an encyclopedia can achieve such a task. However, one thing you can control is whether the information you provide is fact or hypotheses. Whatever I wrote here was fact or based on facts and I trust that as we move forward, we can presume that this should be the basis for constructive discourse between you, me, and all of us. Be well.

  5. At least two of them – Alec and Jirair, are true patriots and heroes, who fight the regime to stop the new genocide. Armenia already lost 2 million people, but noone else cares. As a descendent of 1915 genocide survivors, I’m grateful to them for the idea!

  6. Gokor Yegnukian on

    unfortunately i came across this article later than i would like to have, nonetheless while you continually talk about facts this and facts that and anyone who has disagreed with you is either a conspiracy theorist or is stating mere hypothesis; you have made blatant (not too mention wrong) statements that are your assertions unless of course you have someone telling you what to do.

    1) the title itself is already inflammatory.

    2) “amalgam of disgruntled citizens” how do you back this up with facts? this is simply a statement meant to provoke.

    3) “the groups activities have been rebranded “Centennial without this regime” they are different things, for you not to know that or find that out is your ignorance which in turn displays your lack of journalistic integrity.

    i could go on and on but i’ll save you embarrassment.
    3) Preparliament – now interchangeably called Founding Parliament” they are not interchangeable PP was the 1st stage and FP is the 2nd stage

    • And “dead parliament” is the third and final stage LOL

      There is a good American saying: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s most probably a duck.

      So “Founding Parliament” is a Western run operation. Their actions are obvious: They are meant to sabotage the centennial of the Armenian genocide and punish Yerevan for joining the EEU. Their ideological counterparts are those brainless fanatics in Kiev that destroyed their country with their Russophobia.

      Jirayr Sefilian is an extremist nutjob. Who says a war hero has to be normal or smart? That Alec Yenikomshian character is a French agent. And Igor Muradyan works for the West. FP’s leadership is on Western payrolls.

  7. Well done William. Your number one concern should be the Armenian state. Your number one priority should be the propagation of truth. Please do not let the gaggle of anti-Armenia activists attacking your work here discourage you. They may be vociferous, but rest assured they are small in number and quite powerless. They make a show to justify the money they receive from Western grants. Nevertheless, FP is a fringe group in Armenia made up of mostly naive young people, disgruntled adults, weirdos and Western mercenaries. They will be crushed by Armenian law enforcement bodies if they attempt anything stupid for their Western overlords come April 24.

    • There goes a conspiracy theorist… and the biggest joke is the foolishly naive reference to the “Armenian law enforcement bodies”.

  8. This is a biased article to say the least. The statements about police beatings being wrong, etc. are just disclaimers and do not sound genuine at all.

    Some of the leaders of the movement are now political prisoners who were arrested on bogus charges. I wonder what you might now say about that. Check out the footage from the protest and rally that happened yesterday in support of the political prisoners. That might educate you a little bit better and hopefully you may be more objective next time. Hopefully…

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