By Shakeh Avoyan in Vanadzor
Artashes Geghamian, a leading opposition candidate, held the largest yet rally of his presidential election campaign as he visited the northern Armenian city of Vanadzor on Wednesday.
More than 10,000 people turned out for the gathering in a show of support for one of President Robert Kocharian’s most outspoken critics. Verbal attacks on the current Armenian leadership again figured prominently in the speeches delivered by Geghamian and his political allies.
Many in the crowd echoed the speakers’ sentiment. “There is a lot of corruption under Robert [Kocharian],” complained one Geghamian backer. “Wherever you go and whatever you ask, you see corruption.”
Vanadzor, which is Armenia’s third biggest city, was the scene of a similarly large campaign rally held by Kocharian earlier this week. According to local opposition supporters, many government employees were ordered to attend it by their superiors. “When Kocharian came here, whole schools were told to participate in his rally with their teachers and students,” said one woman.
“We have seen his work. Why is he campaigning?” asked another angry woman. “Let Demirchian, Geghamian and others campaign and say what they will do for the people.”
Another opposition supporter claimed that the existence of at least four major opposition contenders will complicate, not facilitate, Kocharian’s efforts to stay in power. “The authorities wanted to see one opposition candidate to throw all their mud at him,” he said. “But it’s hard for them to slander four men simultaneously.”
There were also those who strongly disagreed with Geghamian and praised Kocharian. “Geghamian is a very emotional person,” explained one of them. “That’s not good. The president of the republic must be more serious and restrained.”
Another Vanadzor resident said that “only Kocharian and perhaps Vazgen Manukian” have the necessary experience and skills to hold the country’s top executive post.
One local man was particularly unhappy with Paruyr Hayrikian, a Soviet-era dissident who is now campaigning for Geghamian. “This is a man who always said that he stands for national self-determination, but is now backing someone keen to sell our independence,” he said, referring to Geghamian’s implicit support for Armenia’s accession to the Russia-Belarus union.