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Poligraf: Armenian nightclub ‘brutally’ raided by police

The club has launched an online petition to reopen the venue following its forced closure last weekend

Poligraf, one of Armenia’s largest techno institutions, was raided by police in the early hours of April 23 last week. Since the raid – which the club claims took place without legal grounds – authorities have forbidden the venue from reopening. In response, the club has launched an online petition titled “Defend Dance”, demanding that authorities permit the venue to reopen.

The brutal raid has been likened to the attacks on Bassiani and Café Gallery in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2018. According to Poligraf, staff and attendees were “brutally beaten and strip-searched” when held in custody. CCTV videos of the raid were posted on social media by the club, and show police storming the building and throwing people to the floor. No reason was given for the club’s raid.

This is an attack not only on Poligraf, but also on the entire club community. All of us, as part of a unique cultural and creative sphere, are at risk,” the club said in a statement on Instagram. “It’s not just about our right to dance or express ourselves, it’s about the very essence of our society. We are part of a community that promotes creativity, diversity and inclusion. Now, however, we are under attack.”

Hektor Khachatryan, who DJs under the name yutani, was playing at Poligraf on the night of the raid. “I was in the middle of my set when I heard screams and something happening on the opposite side of the main room. At first, I thought that someone was misbehaving and violating the club rules, and security was trying to remove that person from the room,” he recalls.

“But a couple of seconds later I realised 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.”

Khachatryan stopped the music and was then ordered to lie down and put his arms over his head by one of the SWAT team. “They searched me and did not find anything illegal in my pockets. Then they started to look around the [DJ booth] and again did not find anything.” Khachatryan says that after lying on the floor for around an hour, he was taken with other Poligraf staff and attendees to the police department.

He claims that he witnessed “body shaming, homophobia, sexism, and racism” from the SWAT team, with officers routinely verbally humiliating one gay man and speaking about a group of young women in a derogatory manner.

Arman Ninoyan, who DJs as st. nuriar, was not at Poligraf during the raid but was scheduled to play a set at the venue later on in the night. He found out about the raid while preparing for his set at home, after another DJ messaged him on Telegram to let him know what had happened. “I tried to reach out to my friends who were already inside, but nobody answered – as [I found out later] they were all lying on the ground with their hands on their heads,” he says.

“It made me feel unsafe because even though I was sure that my friends hadn’t done anything illegal, the police would probably be very brutal towards them,” he continues. “Unfortunately, I was correct.”

Khachatryan, who has been part of the Armenian electronic music scene for three years, says “Poligraf is the only place in the city where I can go to listen and play the music I like while being sure that I am in a safe place.” Ninoyan shares this sentiment. “They provide a place where everyone can express themselves, including a platform where new artists can show their talent,” he says. He adds that Poligraf regularly organise courses for aspiring DJs, and credits these courses with kickstarting his own music career.

“It was the first techno club of its kind in Yerevan, and its impact on the development of the techno and rave scene in the city cannot be underestimated,” he says. “Poligraf is not just about the music. It’s about a culture and community, and we can see the support it receives from members of that community worldwide. It’s a space where everyone can feel welcomed and express themselves freely, making it a truly special place.”

A petition has now been launched for members of the public to express their support for Poligraf and demand that the Armenian authorities permit the club to reopen. “We cannot allow the forces that seek to suppress our way of life to win. They want to silence our voices, suffocate our creativity, and impose their narrow-minded worldview on us,” a statement from Poligraf accompanying the petition reads. “We must act now. It is up to other institutions, artists, musicians, writers, dancers and anyone who values creativity and diversity to join us and sign this petition in demand for the State of Armenia to open the doors of Poligraf.” At present, the petition has amassed over 2,000 signatures.

You can sign Poligraf’s petition here.