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After Police Sealed Their Doors, a Yerevan Techno Club Re-Opens. How and Why?

Edgar Babayan often posts his opinion on Facebook to the 893 people who follow him there. 

On April 12th, 2023, the head of the Armenian media network Tiv 1 posted on his personal page claiming the owners of the Yerevan club Poligraf were dealing meth, acid, and ecstasy inside the club. 

Two weeks later in the early morning of April 23rd within the heavy trance of the DJ yutani’s techno set, screams rang out on the Poligraf dancefloor. The Republic of Armenia Police Department had surged through steel front doors of the club and had begun detaining employees and patrons alike. The SWAT team sent to the club claimed they were there on grounds of a drug bust. There was no search warrant. 

In the now highly-circulated CCTV footage of the raid, nearly two dozen police officers, some brandishing body armor and automatic submachine guns, are seen throwing those inside the entrance to the ground. Some officers are seen in seemingly street clothes. 

Following the incident, the DJ playing during the time of the raid told Dazed in an interview, “I realized that it was a SWAT team with assault rifles, putting everyone to the ground and randomly yelling at people [...] They were yelling to everyone with the dirtiest profanity, showing unnecessary aggression.” 

Open Caucasus Media reported there were strip searches, and yutani continued to tell Dazed he was forced to lie on the floor with hands on his head for about an hour. Poligraf made statements in social media posts that some of their employees and club attendees were even “brutally beaten up.” Other reports have stated women and LGBTQ+ Armenians were subjected to verbal abuse by the police officers, in addition to the physical arrests. 

41 people from the club were arrested and taken to the station, with the Armenian Government's Investigative Committee citing 4 employees of Poligraf with “suspicion of illegal keeping and using of narcotic drugs.” The police sealed the steel front doors and prevented the owners of the club from entering the premises.

Events that were planned to be hosted at the venue were announced that they were postponed, following up that they stood in solidarity with the Poligraf community.

The techno nightclub nestled in the Kentron district of Yerevan has been routinely cherished by locals and visitors as a haven for self-expression and LGBTQ+ acceptance. In a 2021 CivilNet report on the club, the club showcased how they were working to pioneer more creative exploration in Yerevan, even hosting DJ classes at the club. 

In their social media statements, Poligraf believes their focus on inclusivity and diversity is under attack by the government and police. 

In an interview with the blog of Resident Advisor, the notable ticket and events platform for the underground electronic music scene, the Head of Communications for Poligraf Harmik Mackertoomian claims the raid stemmed from Edgar Babayan’s April 12th Facebook post, citing Babayan and his network Tiv 1’s close ties with government officials. “‘His satellite media company is basically an extension of the government and the people that are involved,’ he said. "It's a textbook example of someone trying to frame us for things that are completely false.’”

Poligraf's Harmik Mackertoomian, who also DJs at the Yerevan club.
Poligraf's Harmik Mackertoomian, who also DJs at the Yerevan club.

Resident Advisor writes in their article that Mackertoomian made note “the situation stemmed from an incident last year, when an individual (Edgar Babayan) was refused entry and subsequently phoned the police to call in a bomb scare at the club. Nothing was found, which led to Poligraf opening a defamation case against the individual. But Mackertoomian said he's continued to spread misinformation about the club.”

According to reports released by the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Armenia, “a criminal proceeding was initiated” on April 14th, two days after Babayan’s Facebook post. Two days after the arrests on April 25th, Tiv 1 released an article claiming “cold weapons” were also found on the detainees, which Poligraf refutes is not in the official proceedings reports. 

Armenia’s Deputy Chairman of the National Defense and Security Committee Armen Khachatryan double-downed on the investigation and raid, claiming the focus is on “the fight against drugs.” 

As OC Media reported, Khachatryan also defended the visible force of police. “‘The police entered a club where everyone knows that drugs are being distributed, from synthetic drugs to everything’, Khachatryan claimed. ‘And you are talking about violence… what violence?’”

Through this time, Babayan has continued his Facebook posts fighting back against Poligraf’s online campaign for justice, echoing Khachatryan’s sentiment that there should be a fight against the distribution of drugs to protect minors in Armenia. 

Armenia does operate their justice system as “presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law,” though statements from Poligraf continue to reflect a distrust in government, saying it is “another failure of the law enforcement system.”  

The online campaign and petition #DefendDance has circulated across Europe and North America in solidarity with Poligraf. Several popular nightclubs in Armenia and Georgia have made additional public statements condemning attacks on electronic music venues. With Poligraf citing the government had no legal grounds to enter the venue, it was unclear how the criminal proceedings will take its course. 

Although the doors were still sealed shut Friday afternoon, Poligraf resident DJs and frequent attendees staged an outdoor rave by the club Friday afternoon, dancing and raising signs in protest of the government’s decision. Events planned for that weekend and beyond seemed to be limbo.

That was until Saturday morning.

To ecstatic hype from the global dancing world, Poligraf posted a photo of their steel doors open, with a warm tungsten light illuminating the same entry way that police had busted through just seven days prior.

While the reasoning for the re-opening is yet to be announced, Poligraf opened the night with an event from Princess Diaries, of which Harmik Mackertoomian is the founder of.

"We want to extend our deepest gratitude to the global club community and all those who showed their support during our time of struggle. It was your unwavering solidarity that ultimately led to this triumphant moment," wrote Poligraf on Instagram.

Saturday was a jam-packed night. The music was loud and the dancing was passionate. Yet, a cloud stood hung over the situation.

"However - let us be clear - this is just the beginning of our fight. We will not rest until those who committed the egregious acts of the past are held accountable for their actions. The youth of Armenia deserve better, and we stand firm in our commitment to upholding their rights and liberties," Poligraf continued in their Instagram post.

What that accountability looks like will remain to be seen. Equally, what the government's legal proceedings shape up to be remain to be seen.

Despite the pressure of the local and online community has put on government officials, the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Armenia have yet to make any follow-up statements since their April 25th announcement of the rest and prior investigations. The club seems likely to stay open, though the suspects arrested in the attempted drug bust could still be in jeopardy of further legal action.

With a raid of the magnitude, it would seem out of character for the RA police or even Edgar Babayan to let up on their own pressure on the drug fight. On the same accord, it would seem out of character for Poligraf to keep fighting for their right to have a home to dance in.

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