Armenian protest against Erdogan visit turns violent

Armenian protest against Erdogan visit turns violent

Erdogan's picture is torn down in BeirutMP Pakradounian intervenes to calm situation, contacts Baroud to negotiate with security forces

Lebanese protesters of Armenian descent clashed with security forces Thursday during a demonstration against the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Members of the Armenian community in Lebanon organized the protest in Downtown Beirut to condemn Erdogan?s two-day visit, which started Wednesday. Erdogan had met with Lebanon?s three top officials and held visits to north and south Lebanon to inaugurate a school and a hospital.

The peaceful protest turned violent when a number of demonstrators tore up a large poster of Erdogan hanging opposite the landmark Martyrs statue and hurled rocks and black oil toward the banner.

?Security forces countered the rioters by beating up some, but no one was seriously hurt,? an eyewitness said.

However, a security source speaking to The Daily Star denied any rock hurling had occurred and said the incident was limited to ?fistfights.?

Takhnak Party MP Hagop Pakradounian intervened to calm the situation and contacted Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud to negotiate with security forces.

?Pakradounian insisted the demonstration remained calm because Erdogan was on an official visit to Lebanon,? the source added.

However, the Turkish prime minister?s picture was removed ?to preserve the dignity of martyrs and to pay respect to their souls,? Pakradounian said, noting that the poster insulted both the Lebanese and Armenian people.

A similar protest was held by the Armenian community in Lebanon Wednesday outside the airport, while a rival gathering of more than 100 Lebanese students welcomed Erdogan.

Armenian politician and Future Movement MP Serge Torsarkissian said the stance of the Armenian community in Lebanon was ?a shy one because it was concerned with preserving Lebanon?s interests.? He then called on all Lebanese to hang on to their identity, especially the Armenian community. Concerning the visit, Torsarkissian refused to describe it as ?supportive of a particular sect? and stressed that the Armenian community would not stand in the face of Lebanon?s interests, whether in terms of the country?s relations with Turkey or any other interest. ?The community is committed to its historic stance,? he added.

For his part, Armenian Orthodox Archbishop in Lebanon Kegham Khatcherian warned Lebanon and the Arab world against surrendering their leadership to foreign powers, saying ?we are protesting in Martyrs Square not against an official visit or against an agreement, but to prove to this visitor [Erdogan] and to the entire world that we will not keep quiet about our inherited right.?

Source: The Daily Star, Beirut with agencies (abridged), 26 November 2010