On June 22, the “Zartonk” National Christian Party organized a protest near the Center for Disease Prevention and Control against “American biolaboratories” operating in Armenia.
One of the organizers, Ara Zohrabyan, former chairman of the Chamber of Advocates, co-founder of the “Free Will” initiative, and leader of the “Zartonk” National Christian Party, stated during his speech that “they heard” that biological weapons are being prepared in these laboratories.
During the protest, the organizers also repeated the main narratives and false information spread on the topic, which have been circulating in the Armenian media for years.
This time, however, the well-known narratives were supplemented by statements about the Russian-Ukrainian war and in that context, the laboratories operating in Ukraine.
After the start of the war, Russian officials, particularly Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, the military, as well as the local press, regularly circulated the issue of biolaboratories in Ukraine, claiming that Ukrainians had developed biological weapons or experimented with “coronavirus-carrying bats.” These allegations have been refuted by both Ukrainian and US officials: The laboratories have research significance.
During the war, the Armenian media and those campaigning against so-called “biolaboratories” adopted a new narrative: one of the causes of Ukraine and Georgia’s problems with Russia is the biolaboratories operating in these countries, and Russia can “come after Armenia” or “punish” Armenia as well as Ukraine.
“We do not want the example of Georgia or Ukraine to be repeated with us,” one of the participants, lawyer Marine Farmanyan, stated during the protest.
After the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the “Civilnet” Fact-Checking Team covered the narratives of biological weapons and their spread in Armenia. Media.am has covered this topic several times.
The laboratories are Armenian
Despite claims that these “biolaboratories” in Armenia are American, they are in fact branches of the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention and are called the “Reference Laboratory Center.”
The lab was funded and renovated by the US Department of Defense’s Defense Hazard Reduction Agency, which led to the spread of the narrative that it was “American.” The “Reference Laboratory Center,” however, operates under the subordination of the RA Ministry of Health, and is under the control of the RA Government.
The center located in Yerevan was opened in 2016, similar centers were also opened in the regions of Lori, Shirak, Gegharkunik, Tavush and Syunik.
It has been denied for a long time
The Armenian protesters called on the relevant bodies to deny the information about the “biological weapon.” However, both the Armenian and US authorities have repeatedly denied the information about the production of biological weapons in “biolaboratories,” stating that they are engaged only in research and studies.
Back in 2016, sut.am (“Fact-checking platform”) wrote that these biolaboratories also received support from the Russian Federation in the form of medical equipment.
The topic of American biolaboratories is not new in the Armenian political field and media. Back in 2017, the “For Law” public movement was holding protests against them, repeating the circulating narratives.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced in 2018 that the entrance to the laboratories was open to Russian specialists, and US Ambassador Lynne Tracy said in 2019 that she saw no problem in giving Russian scientists access to Armenian laboratories.
In March of this year, an Armenian-Russian interdepartmental consultation was held in Moscow on “biosafety issues” within the framework of a bilateral agreement signed in 2021.
About a month later, in April of this year, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated after a meeting in Moscow that, according to the agreement, “the territories of the two countries will not be allocated for use by third countries in the field of biosafety.”