By Armen Zakarian
Four persons were reportedly arrested Thursday in connection with an overnight attack on a campaign office of a major candidate in the November 2 local election in Yerevan’s western Ajapnyak district.
The incident heightened political tensions in the area that has already seen grave election-related violence in the past.
The attack reportedly targeted campaign activists of Arman Sahakian, the candidate of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) for the post of local chief executive. He is using the HHK’s clout to try to oust Ajapnyak’s incumbent prefect, Artsrun Khachatrian. The tense race is seen by some observers as the latest manifestation of a persisting feud between two local economic clans.
In the words of Sahakian’s father Galust, who leads the HHK faction in Armenia’s parliament, were assaulted by a group of men as they were about to leave the office at around midnight. “They attacked, beating our supporters, shouting abuse and tearing down our campaign posters,” he told reporters. “Several people were injured; one of them seriously. He was hospitalized.”
The HHK leader said police told him that four men were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attack. However, the press service of Armenia’s Police Service declined to confirm or refute the claims. Nor did it say if a criminal case has already been opened.
Galust Sahakian mentioned no names as he spoke of an unspecified “mob” that wants to cause “bloodshed” in Ajapnyak. The accusations appeared to be directed at Khachatrian. There was no immediate reaction from the latter.
Khachatrian is not affiliated with any political party but is believed to enjoy the backing of Aghvan Hovsepian, Armenia’s influential deputy prosecutor-general who has extensive business interests. In a series of newspaper interviews last week, he accused the Sahakian family, that also owns lucrative businesses, of seeking to turn the city district into their fiefdom.
The HHK’s parliamentary leader hit back with similar counter-allegations. His son, who currently heads of the Yerevan municipality’s department on culture and sports, has so far avoided personal involvement in the war of words.
The violence rekindled memories of a similar election in the same constituency in 1999 which was disrupted by a series of shoot-outs between supporters of the two main candidates. Khachatrian faced Galust Sahakian’s wealthy brother-in-law, Ashot Aghababian, at the time. Both men were barred by then powerful Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian from contesting a repeat vote.
Khachatrian was eventually elected to run the Ajapnyak administration three years ago.