On Friday, May 1, police used excessive force during a protest action by employees of the largest chemical factory in Armenia, Nairit; to date, the workers' demonstrations and protests had been conducted in an orderly and peaceful manner. The unusual police behavior was due to the fact that Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was set to attend a concert at the Armenian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet after Alexander Spendiaryan dedicated to the International Workers' Day organized by Grand Holding Ltd. Nairit workers were holding the protest demanding their 20 months' worth of salaries at the Freedom Square, which is a part of the Opera Theater complex, and is located just to the south of the main Opera building; the police, allegedly, had received instructions not to let the protesters approach the President.
At the beginning of the protest, approximately 11:00 AM, various police officers approached the demonstrators with proposals to change the place of their protest action. “You've been holding demonstrations for such a long time, have we ever insulted you? This one time we are asking you to move a little further away,” one of the officers said. Some of the officers even stated that the Nairit workers would face administrative charges if they didn't move their demonstration.
Nairit trade union head Hrach Tadevosyan supported the police's proposal to change the place of the protest, however, he was unable to convince the majority of the employees to leave the Freedom Square.
Learning that Serzh Sargsyan was going to attend a concert at the Opera building, the Nairit workers, on the contrary, decided that it was a good opportunity to finally meet the President and bring up the issue of their unpaid salaries. By 12:30 PM the law enforcement officers at the square multiplied, then the special forces created a wall and started to actively push and pull the protesters, pushing them back toward the central part of the square.
After a conversation with a few police officers, Anush Harutyunyan, spokesperson of the plant, addressed the employees; “I was told that they would apply force against us if we didn't leave. We didn't come here to spoil anyone's celebrations, and we don't want anyone to spoil our protest action. I can't allow use of force, so let's move toward the statue of Tumanyan.”
All the while, the workers of Nairit were chanting “Debt repayment!”, demanding that the police officers explained why they were being pushed. Responding, one of the women participating in the action said, somewhat changing the lyrics of a well-known Armenian song; "Because you have to look at the sun from afar so as no to get burned."
Speaking to reporters, Yerevan Deputy Police Chief Valery Osipyan commented on the actions of police officers. “We have always seen that the Nairit workers have been pursuing a specific issue; they don't have different beliefs, so the police have always shown tolerance toward them. There have never been any clashes between them and law enforcement. Today is different: a ceremonial event is taking place inside the Opera building, and [the Nairit workers] are disturbing it,” Osipyan said.
The words of the high-ranking policeman sparked an outrage among the demonstrators, one of whom said; “Hey, Gestapo, what do you want?”
In the end, the Police succeeded in their task: Serzh Sargsyan entered the Opera building without facing the employees of the plant. After the beginning of the concert, at 13:00, the law enforcement officers stopped pulling and pushing the protesters, while the latter went on chanting “Debt repayment!”.
“It's obvious that no one wants to meet us. The concert has already started, the President is inside,” Anush Harutyunyan said, proposing to either stay and organize a march toward the RA Government building, or come back next Tuesday and hold another protest action in front of the Presidential Residence.
The workers decided to hold a march, finding it pointless to wait; the protesters were confident the President would not meet them after the concert either. “He'll leave the same unnoticed way he's come,” one of them said.
At 13:12 the press service of the RA President issued a statement according to which the President and the First Lady took part in a celebratory concert, which was “attended by 1000 employees of Grand Holding company, and heroes of socialist labor, while Serzh Sargsyan awarded the Medal for Work Merit to “Grand Master” LLC Director Mikayel Harutyunyan.”