By Astghik Bedevian
The governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) on Wednesday refused to investigate allegations that the controversial governor of the southeastern Syunik region affiliated with the HHK bullied a prominent opposition leader and obstructed his recent visit to the area.
The leader, Vazgen Manukian, toured Syunik last week together with several other senior members of his National Democratic Union (AZhM). He alleged on Tuesday that local authorities prevented them from holding indoors gatherings with voters. He said they were even barred from spending a night in the regional capital Kapan and were barely able to check into a hotel in the nearby town of Goris.
Manukian claimed to have received a threatening phone call in his hotel room from an unknown man who warned him to stay away from Syunik until the May 12 parliamentary elections. He said he is confident that the anonymous caller is connected with the Republican Governor Surik Khachatrian, also known for his “Liska” nickname.
Goris and surrounding villages have long been considered an exclusive zone of influence of Khachatrian and members of his extended family. Khachatrian, who is seen as a protégé of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, has tolerated little dissent both in the Goris area and the rest of Syunik.
“The people of Syunik live under an ordinary feudal system,” charged Manukian. Branding the governor as an “uneducated criminal,” the veteran oppositionist said the HHK should bring him to account if it is serious about its promises of turning Armenia into a democratic and rule-of-law state.
“This is not a separate case of insults and intimidation of a single citizen,” he said. “This is a phenomenon illustrating the situation in Armenia.”
But the HHK’s parliamentary leader, Galust Sahakian, made it clear that the ruling party, which plans to win the upcoming elections, has no intention to censure Khachatrian or look into Manukian’s claims. “That is not a matter of political evaluations,” he told RFE/RL. “Mr. Manukian had better ask law-enforcement bodies to conduct an investigation.”
Manukian, whose party is boycotting the vote, did not deny that one of the aims of his trip to Syunik was to campaign against Aleksandr Sarkisian, the defense minister’s flamboyant brother who is running for parliament in a constituency that encompasses the Goris area. His main challenger is Samvel Babayan, the former military leader of Nagorno-Karabakh who claims to be in opposition to Armenia’s leadership.
In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Manukian said that he will try to help Babayan get elected because he believes “every ballot cast for Aleksandr Sarkisian is an insult to the Armenian people.”
The AZhM leader came up with another argument at a news conference on Tuesday. “If Serzh Sarkisian’s brother is defeated there, that will be a big blow to Serzh Sarkisian,” he said. “And I want Serzh Sarkisian to get a big blow.”
(Photolur photo: Surik Khachatrian.)