Armenia: Founding Parliament political movement; including history, objectives, leadership, and recruitment; incidents of violence involving members; treatment of members by authorities (2013-2015) [ARM105280.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview

Caucasian Knot, an Internet news source on current events in the Caucasus (Caucasian Knot 22 June 2009), states that the "Founding Parliament" (FP) movement was formerly known as the "Pre-Parliament" movement (ibid. 29 Apr. 2015). According to Armenian web-based news source Tert.am, the Pre-Parliament group announced its plan to create a "Founding Parliament" in December 2013, as part of the next stage in the group's aim of achieving a step-by-step change in government in Armenia (Tert.am 13 Dec 2013). The Civil Society Institute (CSI), a Yerevan-based NGO that promotes a "free and democratic society in Armenia," and is the Armenian member of the International Federation for Human Rights (Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme, FIDH), reports that the FP was established in January 2015 by the "'Pre-Parliament's political movement" (CSI 15 Apr. 2015).

The FP's stated goal is to "initiate" a political process with the aim of establishing a state with a new management system capable of pursuing "national goals and tasks" (FP n.d.a.). The FP is calling for a change in government structure so that it is not led by one individual, but by collegial leading group known as the FP (FP 10 Mar. 2014.). Media sources report that the FP is a political opposition group campaigning for "'regime change'" in Armenia (Armenia Liberty 2 Feb. 2015; ArmeniaNow 20 Apr. 2015).

Armenia Liberty, the Armenian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reports that the FP has accused Armenia's President, Serzh Sarkisian, of "corruption and misrule" (9 Apr. 2015). ArmeniaNow, a weekly website published by the NGO New Times Journalism Training Center located in Yerevan (ArmeniaNow n.d.), reports that the FP considers the current regime to be "'antinational'" (ibid. 20 Apr. 2015). Sources have also described FP as a "radical" opposition group (ArmeniaNow 14 Apr. 2015; Armenia Liberty 2 Feb. 2015).

1.1 Objectives

The FP website, preparliament.com, includes a webpage about the group's program, titled, "Comprehensive Proposal to Direct the Movement to a Successful Conclusion," published in December 2013, which states that their objective is "[t]he nonviolent removal of the current regime and the creation of a qualitatively new type of government in Armenia" (FP 6 Dec. 2013). A copy of this document (Attachment 1), which explains the FP's proposed steps to removal of the "current regime" and to create a new government, is attached to this Response (FP 6 Dec. 2013). A press statement from the pre-parliamentary secretariat published on the FP website, preparliament.com, states that

the Pre-Parliament has developed a pan-Armenian movement program aimed at the liberation of the Republic of Armenia (Artsakh included) from the neo-colonial dependency and the construction of New Quality Armenian State. That program particularly rejects any political struggle within the operating government system through participating in the elections in accordance with its rules, because the elections have turned into a criminal mechanism for the reproduction of the criminal administration. Instead of that alternative elections are provided for to create the basic governmental body – the Founding Parliament of the New Quality Armenian State, which will obtain legitimacy and authority through concluding person-by-person agreements with citizens and will become a body expressing the will of the people. The new political elite core of the future, driven by national interests of Armenia, will be formed in the Founding Parliament and around it in parallel. And when the turned-into-parasite state government system is removed by means of the people’s imposed will, the Founding Parliament as well as its formed Transitional government will be grafted into the state government system and will change its content and character. The completion of the Founding Parliament is a vital guarantee for the formation and the development of New Quality Armenian State. (FP 17 Dec. 2013)

ArmeniaNow reports that in April 2015 the FP published its declaration on "'Forming and Developing the Armenian State" (ArmeniaNow 14 Apr. 2015). The same source notes that in an interview with ArmeniaNow, the FP's temporary coordinator said that after "removing the regime," the group plans on submitting "a draft Constitution to be approved in a referendum, after which, if they get sufficient votes, will undertake to implement preterm nationwide and local elections" (ibid.). Furthermore, the coordinator explained that if they do not obtain sufficient votes, then the elections will be held under the current Constitution (ibid.). According to the coordinator, "'[t]he citizens who sign contracts with us commit themselves to accepting ideas of the Founding Parliament, while the Founding Parliament assumes the obligation to building a State of a new quality'" (ArmeniaNow 14 Apr. 2015). The coordinator explained that the FP "'is going to create a new State,'" and that it is not preparing for the next general elections, since the group's philosophy is to "'find a system solution outside the current system'" (ArmeniaNow 14 Apr. 2015).

Armenia Liberty reports that the FP has conducted a protest campaign aimed at forcing President Serz Sarkisian to resign (Armenia Liberty 30 Mar. 2015). Sources state that the FP has failed to draw large crowds (Armenia Liberty 2 Feb. 2015; ArmeniaNow 14 Apr. 2015). Armenia Liberty states that the FP is not represented in the National Assembly (Armenia Liberty 2 Feb. 2015).

1.2 Leadership and Recruitment

Sources report that:

  • Zhirair Sefilyan [Zhirayr Selfilian, Jirair Selfiyan, Jirayr Sefilian] is the leader of the FP (Caucasian Knot 29 Apr. 2015; Armenia Liberty 2 Feb. 2015);
  • Varuzhan [Varoujan] Avetisyan is the Deputy Chairman (Caucasian Knot 29 Apr. 2015; CSI 15 Apr. 2015); and,
  • Garegin Chukaszyan is the Chairman (Caucasian Knot 29 Apr. 2015; Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015).

The FP website, preparliament.com, published a press statement called "Criteria for Selection of Candidates to the Founding Parliament of New Quality Armenian State," which provides information on the "eligibility criteria for MP candidates of the Founding Parliament having 65 members" (FP 17 Dec. 2013). A copy of this webpage is attached to this Response (Attachment 2).

Sources report that in 2013, the FP indicated that the Founding Parliament will have 65 members (FP 17 Dec 2013; Tert.am 13 Dec. 2013), and that the group had not "ruled out the possibility of simultaneous cooperation with other political forces and civic unions" (ibid.).

The website of the FP, preparliament.com, lists 22 "Members of Pre-Parliament" (FP n.d.b.). The website also lists 5 members of the "Pre-Parliament Secretariat," including Jirayr Sefilian (ibid.).

Armenia Liberty reports that "none of Armenia's leading opposition parties represented in the Parliament has decided to join the campaign" of the FP for "'regime change'" (30 Mar. 2015). Further information on recruitment, as well as the number of members and supporters of the FP, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2. Incidents of Violence Involving the Founding Parliament Group

Sources report that in late November 2014, several cars [between four (ArmInfo 27 Nov. 2014) to seven cars (Armenia Liberty 28 Nov. 2014; FP 4 Dec. 2014)] belonging to FP members were burnt in Yerevan (ArmInfo 27 Nov. 2014; Armenia Liberty 28 Nov. 2014). Armenia Liberty reports that Armenia's Investigative Committee, "a separate law-enforcement body", opened a criminal case, but no arrests were made (Armenia Liberty 28 Nov. 2014). Armenia Liberty later reported in early February 2015 that no one had yet been arrested or prosecuted for the car arson attacks (ibid. 2 Feb. 2015).

Sources report that in November 2014, Gevorg Safarian, a member of the FP, was attacked in Yerevan (Transitions Online 12 Dec. 2014; Armenia Liberty 28 Nov. 2014) by unknown individuals, hours after he attended a demonstration held by dozens of members of FP outside of the police headquarters about recent arson attacks on FP cars (ibid.). Armenia Liberty reports that Safarian alleged that the attack was a "political action" against him and FP (ibid.). Safarian was hit several times, required stitches on his head, and suffered a concussion (ibid.). While in the hospital, Safarian was questioned by the police, but "no formal criminal proceedings" were launched at the time of reporting (ibid.).

Sources report that in late June 2015, demonstrations occurred in Yerevan against electricity price hikes and police used water cannons to disperse protestors (Amnesty International 23 June 2015; ArmInfo 25 June 2015). Sources report that 237 people were arrested during the protests (Amnesty International 23 June 2015; Freedom House 24 June 2015) which Amnesty International described as "mostly peaceful" and which began 19 June, including participation by thousands of people (Amnesty International 23 June 2015). Sources further report that international organizations and foreign diplomatic missions have criticized the police's response (Freedom House 24 June 2015; ArmInfo 25 June 2015). Freedom House reports that "at least 18 people were injured" when police "violently dispersed protesters" (24 June 2015). Without providing details on the extent to which FP participated in these demonstrations, ArmInfo, a news agency covering Armenia, reports that FP released a statement calling for people to join the protests (ArmInfo 25 June 2015).

Caucasian Knot reports that in March 2015, a member of the FP initiative was stabbed by an unidentified assailant at an "anti-government rally" in Gyumri, organized by FP under the slogan "the 100th anniversary of the [Armenian] genocide without regime," and which "called for a coup d'État in Armenia" (30 Mar. 2015). Armenia Liberty similarly reports that in March 2015, an FP activist was stabbed by a "government loyalist" at an opposition movement in Gyumri and that he required surgery (30 Mar. 2015). Sources report that police did not react when a group of people opposed to the rally heckled the FP demonstration and that police did not intervene until eggs were thrown by the hecklers and during the ensuing clash, the FP member was stabbed (Armenia Liberty 30 Mar. 2015; Caucasian Knot 30 Mar. 2015). Armenia Liberty reports that FP leaders "blamed police inactivity for the violence" and claimed authorities were responsible for the "'provocation'" (30 Mar. 2015).

3. Treatment of Members by Authorities

Armenia Liberty reports that, in regards to the November 2014 attack on one of their members, FP leaders "claimed that the Armenian authorities are bullying its members in an effort to stifle its ongoing campaign for regime change" (28 Nov. 2014). According to FP, between April 2013 and 19 October 2014, "over 100 FP members and supporters of the Pre-Parliament were taken to the police station" during various political and civic activities (FP 12 Apr. 2015). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Armenia Liberty reports that in January 2015, while traveling to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a motorcade of cars as part of its campaign for "'regime change'," dozens of FP members were prevented from entering the territory (Armenia Liberty 2 Feb. 2015). Karabakh security forces "stopped and attacked" the 30 cars carrying FP activists and "more than a dozen oppositionists, including FP leader Zhirayr Sefilian, were injured in the violent crackdown" (ibid.). Armenia Liberty reports that a 12 minute video taken by one of the activists at the time of the attack shows policemen punching and kicking FP members who were sitting in their cars (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3.1 Events Related to a 24 April 2015 Demonstration Planned by FP

Sources report that the FP was planning a protest on 24 April 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide (ArmeniaNow 20 Apr. 2015; Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015; Armenia Liberty 9 Apr. 2015). Sources further report that on 7 April 2015, the Yerevan police arrested five members of the FP ahead of their 24 April 2015 planned protest in Yerevan (Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015; Armenia Liberty 9 Apr. 2015; ArmeniaNow 14 Apr. 2015) including the group's chairman Garegin Chukaszyan and founding member Jirair Sefilyan (ibid.; Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015). Sources report that the FP had applied for and was granted permission to hold the rally (Human Rights Watch 1 May 2015; FP 12 Apr. 2015; ArmeniaNow 20 Apr. 2015).

Sources report that the FP members were charged with planning a mass disturbance (Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015; ArmeniaNow 14 Apr. 2015; CSI and FIDH 19 May 2015, 2) and "preparation to commit a crime" (Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015). The authorities claimed that the FP members were plotting to instigate violence in Yerevan during the 24 April ceremonies marking the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian genocide (Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015; Armenia Liberty 9 Apr. 2015).

Sources further note that police searched their homes and FP office (Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015; Tert.am 7 Apr. 2015) and that they seized batons and knives (Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015; Armenia Liberty 9 Apr. 2015) as well as "a stun gun and a publicly available Founding Parliament pamphlet" (Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015). According to Armenia Liberty, authorities also seized a hand grenade, and claimed the objects were to be used to "'inflict corporal injuries' during riots" (9 Apr. 2015).

Human Rights Watch "expressed concern that Founding Parliament members were being targeted for their peaceful political beliefs" in the case of these five arrests (27 Apr. 2015). Tert.am reports that the search and arrests were conducted with force, and that "the representative of the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsman) and the coordinator's lawyers were not able to enquire about the legal grounds for the search" (Tert.am 7 Apr. 2015). CSI released a statement on 15 April 2015 "expressing its concern that [the] law enforcement bodies had not provided convincing grounds for [the] detention" of the five FP members (15 Apr. 2015).

Sources report that the five activists were released on 4 May 2015 (CSI and FIDH 19 May 2015, 2; Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015; ArmInfo 2 July 2015), pending the investigation into the charges (CSI and FIDH 19 May 2015; Human Rights Watch 6 May 2015). Human Rights Watch states that the five activists were held for "almost a month of pretrial custody" (ibid.).

Caucasia Knot reports that during a protest organized by FP in April 2015, approximately 200 FP members attended the demonstration over the arrests of several members ahead of a demonstration planned for 24 April 2015 (10 Apr. 2015).

3.2 Other Instances in 2015

FP reports on its website, preparliament.com, that on 15 January 2015, FP deputies and supporters of the FP were "present" during a clash between police and demonstrators at a protest in Gyumeri, and according to the FP, after the clashes police took its members to the station for five hours (FP 12 Apr. 2015). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Sources report that on 20 August 2015, at a demonstration outside of the presidential palace, the police detained FP member Gevorg Safaryan [Safarian] (Hetq 20 Aug. 2015; Armenia Liberty 26 Aug. 2015) for throwing eggs at the palace (ibid.). Armenia Liberty reports that the following day Safaryan was laid off from his job as a security guard at a private school (ibid.). Safaryan stated that he believed that his dismissal was due to political reasons; however his employer denied any political motive, stating the layoff was part of cuts to 16 jobs due to "'structural changes'" at the school (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Amnesty International. 23 June 2015. "Armenia: Investigate Alleged Police Abuses After Protesters Doused With Water Cannon and Arrested." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2015]

Armenia Liberty. 26 August 2015. Hovannes Movsisian. "Opposition Activists Loses Job After Protest." [Accessed 13 Sept. 2015]

Armenia Liberty. 30 March 2015. "Opposition Activist Stabbed at Gyumri Rally." [Accessed 1 Sept. 2015]

Armenia Liberty. 2 February 2015. "Karabakh Leaders Condemned for Violence Against Armenian Opposition Group." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2015]

Armenia Liberty. 28 November 2014. Karlen Aslanian. "Injured Activist Blames Government for Assault." [Accessed 1 Sept. 2015]

Armenia Liberty. 9 April 2015. Hovannes Movsisian. "Arrested Oppositionists Formally Charged." [Accessed 13 Sept. 2015]

ArmeniaNow. 20 April 2015. "Founding Parliament: Demanding 'Isolation' of Activists Calling for April 24 Rally 'Nonsense'. " [Accesed 1 Sept. 2015]

Armenia Liberty. 14 April 2015. Gayane Mkrtchyan. "Founding Parliament's 'Declaration': Embattled Group Seeks to Establish 'New State'." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2015]

Armenia Liberty. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2015]

ArmInfo. 2 July 2015. Nana Martirosyan. "Founding Parliament Says its Members Suffering Political Persecution." (Factiva).

ArmInfo. 25 June 2015. Nana Martirosyan. "Founding Parliament Movement Calls on Regions and Artsakh to Join Demonstrations in Yerevan." (Factiva).

ArmInfo. 27 November 2014. Tatevik Shahunyan. "Cars of Four Oppositionists Burnt in Yerevan." Accessed 1 Sept. 2015]

Caucasian Knot. 29 April 2015. Armine Martirosyan. "Founding Parliament Holds March Demanding to Release its Activists." [Accessed 1 Sept. 2015]

Caucasian Knot. 10 April 2015. Armine Martirosyan and Tigran Petrosyan. "Armenian Opposition Claims Political Nature of Arrests of Members of Founding Parliament." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2015]

Caucasian Knot. 8 April 2015. Tigran Petrosyan. "Supporters of Arrested Oppositionists Hold Rally in Yerevan." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2015]

Caucasian Knot. 30 March 2015. "Member of 'Pre-Parliament' Stabbed During Rally in Gyumri." [Accessed 1 Sept. 2015]

Caucasian Knot. 22 June 2009. "About Us." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2015]

Civil Society Institute (CSI). 15 April 2015. "Law Enforcement Bodies Have not Presented Convincing Grounds for Detention." [Acccessed 8 Sept. 2015]

Civil Society Institute (CSI) and La Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'Homme (FIDH). 19 May 2015. EU-Armenia: Seeking a More Efficient Support to Justice Sector Reform. [Accessed 17 Aug. 2015]

Founding Parliament (FP). 12 April 2015. "Violence Against Deputies of the Founding Parliament and Participants of 'The Centennial Without This Regime' Moveme." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2015]

Founding Parliament (FP). 4 December 2014. "Condemn Violent Repression of Peaceful Demonstrations in Armenia." [Accessed 1 Sept. 2015]

Founding Parliament (FP). 10 March 2014. "Pre-Parliament is Preparing the Birth of the Distinctive Government's Nuclei." [Accessed 1 Sept. 2015]

Founding Parliament (FP). 17 December 2013. "Criteria for Selection of Candidates to the Founding Parliament of New Quality Armenian State." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2015]

Founding Parliament (FP). 6 December 2013. "A Comprehensive Proposal to Direct the Movement to a Successful Conclusion." [Accessed 9 Sept. 2015]

Founding Parliament (FP). N.d.a. "Manifest." [Accessed 1 Sept. 2015]

Founding Parliament (FP). N.d.b. "Members." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2015]

Freedom House. 24 June 2015. "Armenia Uses Force to Disperse Protests." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2015]

Hetq Online. 20 August 2015. "Yerevan Police Detain Gevorg Safaryan, Reports Founding Parliament." [Accessed 31 Aug. 2015]

Human Rights Watch. 6 May 2015. "Armenia: Opposition Activists Released." [Accessed 17 Aug. 2015]

Human Rights Watch. 1 May 2015. "Letter to the Prosecutor General of Armenia." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2015]

Tert.am. 7 April 2015. "Arrests of Founding Parliament Members Political Persecution - Human Rights Activists." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2015]

Tert.am. 13 December 2013. "Pre-Parliament's Next Step is to Create Founding Parliament, Says Activist." [Accessed 1 Sept. 2015]

Transitions Online. 12 December 2014. Arevik Sahakyan. "Armenian Human Rights Defenders Predict Harsher Environment." [Accessed 8 Sept. 2015]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Armenia – Investigative Committee; Armenian Helsinki Committee; ecoi.net; Factiva; Jamestown Foundation; Minority Rights Group International; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe; Political Handbook of the World; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; United Nations – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, RefWorld; United States – Department of State.

Attachments

1. Founding Parliament (FP). 6 December 2013. "A Comprehensive Proposal to Direct the Movement to a Successful Conclusion." [Accessed 9 Sept. 2015]

2. Founding Parliament (FP). 17 December 2013. "Criteria for Selection of Candidates to the Founding Parliament of new Quality Armenian State." [Accessed 9 Sept. 2015]