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By Hovannes Shoghikian and Karine Kalantarian
The governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) will help to ensure the freedom and fairness of next year’s parliamentary elections and “understands” concerns expressed in that regard by its junior coalition partner, an HHK leader said on Friday.

In a stark warning addressed to the HHK and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) said earlier this week that will drop out of the ruling coalition if the elections are marred by serious fraud. Dashnaktsutyun leaders argued that a clean vote is critical for Armenia’s future.

“We believe that this was a very honest statement,” said Galust Sahakian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader. “Naturally, no political force will achieve any results through fraud.”

The Republicans, who are officially led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, are the biggest establishment force in the country, controlling many central and local government bodies that are in a position to affect election results. They were accused by Dashnaktsutyun and the Armenian opposition of winning the last parliamentary election by fraudulent means. The HHK has always denied this.

Sahakian assured reporters that it is committed to democracy and the rule of law. He was at pains to disprove mounting opposition allegations the HHK is harboring a growing number of “criminal elements” with close ties to the government. He claimed that the HHK is attacked because it is the “most viable force” in Armenia, challenging its detractors to come up with concrete “facts” attesting to its alleged criminal connections.

“The facts are our reality,” countered Stepan Demirchian, the top leader of the opposition Artarutyun alliance. “When they rig elections, isn’t that criminal activity?”

“Facts will be made public and you will see them very soon,” said Mher Shahgeldian of Orinats Yerkir, another opposition group led by former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian.

Another, smaller opposition party called Fatherland and Honor has also pledged to name soon “criminal elements” holding senior positions in government. Its leader, Garnik Markarian, picked up on Friday newspaper reports that Vyacheslav Ivankov, a reputed Russian mafia boss who spent nine years in a U.S. prison on extortion charges, arrived in Armenia earlier this week at the invitation of influential government-connected individuals. He claimed that one of them is Ruben Hayrapetian, a wealthy businessman who joined the HHK along with Sarkisian recently.

Markarian said Ivankov, nicknamed Yaponchik ("Little Japanese"), was met at Yerevan airport by a motorcade of “ten jeeps” belonging to Hayrapetian and other powerful men. “Isn’t this evidence of criminal presence in the political arena?” he told RFE/RL.

Ivankov moved to the United States in 1992 and was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1997 on charges of supervising the extortion of several million dollars form a company run by two Russian businessmen. He was released and deported to Russia two years ago.

(Photolur photo: Galust Sahakian.)
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