Freedom House urges Armenian authorities to conduct an immediate, independent investigation into a mob attack against the offices of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (HCA), a leading human rights organization, and the failure of police forces to calm the crowd or intervene when the situation began to turn violent. A group of about 200 people assembled outside the offices of HCA on April 16 in the town of Vanadzor to protest the screening of a series of short Azerbaijani films at an Azeri film festival, scheduled to begin the following day. As negotiations between the protest organizers and HCA officials dragged on, the crowd became restless, breaking windows and threatening further violence unless the festival organizers agreed not to screen the films. The mob finally dispersed after HCA chairman Artur Sakunts announced the cancellation of the film festival.
The film festival is a project of the Caucasus Center of Peace Making Initiatives (CCPMI) to foster reconciliation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but Armenian nationalist groups and political parties reportedly worked together to organize the protest rally to halt the event. Screening of the films had previously been scheduled at the offices of the Asparez Journalist Club in Gyumri, but was cancelled due to threats of similar attacks. Freedom House calls on authorities to perform their duty by protecting the festival and its organizers from harm and defending all citizens’ freedom of peaceful expression.
Armenia is rated Partly Free in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 report, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011. Nations in Transit 2011 categorizes Armenia as a Semi-consolidated Authoritarian Regime. Ethnic and territorial tensions remain high between the Armenian and Azerbaijani populations. A seven-year war over the semi-autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh region ended with a ceasefire in 1994, but has yet to be fully resolved.