By Karine Kalantarian
Residents of two villages just outside Yerevan claimed Saturday to have been intimidated by President Robert Kocharian’s local influential loyalists shortly before they were due to meet with Stepan Demirchian, a leading opposition presidential candidate.
Witnesses there said a group of men led by a notorious Defense Ministry official tore up Demirchian’s campaign posters and told the villagers not to attend his rallies.
“They were just bullying the people. That’s why so few of them have showed up,” one man in Tairov village, who refused to give his name, said, pointing to a thin crowd that gathered to greet Demirchian.
“This really happened, but I won’t say who did that,” he said. “These are not the times when you can say everything.”
Several other Tairov residents, also too scared to give their names, pointed the finger at Arakel Movsiasian, a native of the area who heads a department at the Armenian Defense Ministry, and a group of his supporters. Movsisian, largely known to the public with his nickname “Shmays,” is a veteran of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. He was tried and got a suspended jail sentence for illegal arms possession in 2000.
Similar allegations were made by Demirchian supporters in the neighboring Parakar village where Movisian and his men, most of them war veterans, quietly watched a tiny rally staged by the opposition candidate. Movsisian denied any involvement in the reported intimidation. “We don’t care about that,” he told RFE/RL. “Our people are with us and we all support Kocharian. Not just this village, but the whole area.”
Demirchian blamed the incident on Kocharian whose reelection campaign is managed, controversially, by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. “They will not achieve anything with such actions,” he said.
It was the second ugly challenge to the leader of the opposition People’s Party of Armenia since the official start on Tuesday of campaigning for the February 19 presidential elections. On Thursday, someone stole a microphone set for an open-air Demirchian rally in the northern town of Stepanavan.
Like in Stepanvan, Demirchian and other HZhK leaders urged their supporters in Tairov and Parakar to defy government intimidation and vote in good faith. But at least one villager remained unvoncinced when he said: “Once you are gone, we will again be unprotected.”