By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Stepanian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian was on Sunday officially declared the winner of Armenia’s disputed presidential election amid mounting political tensions that threatened to flare up into a violent confrontation. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of supporters of his main challenger Levon Ter-Petrosian continued to demonstrate in Yerevan despite the arrest of three top allies of the former Armenian president.
According to the final vote results released by the Central Election Commission (CEC), Sarkisian won 52.8 percent of some 1.63 million votes which it said were cast by Armenians on Tuesday. Ter-Petrosian came in a distant second with 21.5 percent, followed by two other candidates, Artur Baghdasarian and Vahan Hovannisian. The CEC said they won 16.7 percent and 6.1 percent respectively.
The final vote tally was virtually identical with the CEC’s preliminary vote results that were rejected as fraudulent by Ter-Petrosian and triggered non-stop street protesters by his supporters. More than 30,000 of them again marched through central Yerevan on Saturday to reiterate the ex-president’s demands for a repeat election. They also expressed their solidarity with three Ter-Petrosian allies arrested at the weekend.
One of them, former Deputy Prosecutor-General Gagik Jahangirian, was ambushed and taken away by a special police unit along with his brother Vartan and two other men outside Yerevan as he rode in a car late Saturday. In a statement, the Armenian police said the four men were armed and planned to “destabilize the situation in the capital.” The statement said Vartan Jahangirian was “accidentally” wounded by a police officer while resisting arrest.
The arrest came just one day after Jahangirian publicly called the presidential election fraudulent and voiced support for Ter-Petrosian. He was promptly sacked as deputy prosecutor-general by Kocharian.
The two other oppositionists, Smbat Ayvazian and Aram Karapetian, were detained on Sunday. The police said they found a pistol in Ayvazian’s capital but would not specify if it was possessed illegally. Karapetian, who was held by the National Security Service (NSS), was also not immediately charged with any crime.
Ter-Petrosian condemned and at the same time downplayed the arrests as a mere “psychological attack” on his camp as he addressed the crowd in the city’s Liberty Square. “Rest assured that nothing threatens them,” he said, referring to the detainees.
“The authorities are failing to achieve their two strategic goals,” claimed Ter-Petrosian “The popular mobilization is growing and the disintegration of the government system deepening day by day.”
Ter-Petrosian also assured supporters that Sarkisian and outgoing President Robert Kocharian will not forcibly break up their protests which continued for a fifth consecutive day. “Don’t trust [in those rumors.] There will be no such thing,” he said.
Kocharian raised the possibility of a use of force on Saturday when he described the opposition protests as an “attempt to seize power by illegal means” and told Armenia’s top military and security officials to enforce “law and order” in the country. Kocharian also told the army command that he “will not allow anyone to play a shadowy role” in the post-election developments. It was an apparent warning addressed to Lieutenant-General Minister Manvel Grigorian, a deputy defense minister who also heads the influential Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans.
Grigorian is understood to have joined most members of Yerkrapah in pledging allegiance to Ter-Petrosian. His stance led six other top army generals as well as eight colonels loyal to Kocharian and Sarkisian to announce Saturday that they are leaving Yerkrapah in protest against Grigorian’s failure to stop his organization being “used for dishonest political purposes.” Their joint statement was circulated by the press service of the Armenian Defense Ministry.
Yerkrapah’s deputy chairman, Miasnik Malkhasian, dismissed the statement, saying that most of the officers were “forced” to sign it. “If they want this struggle to end without blood, they must stand by their people and demand the rule of law and justice in the country,” Malkhasian said, appealing to the military and the security apparatus.
“I am 100 percent certain they too will be here tomorrow,” Ter-Petrosian claimed for his part.
Speaking at Sunday’s rally, both Malkhasian and the deputy head of another veterans’ organization, Sasun Mikaelian, said that the vast majority of the veterans support the Ter-Petrosian-led movement. “The whole nation has risen up and they can’t arrest the whole nation,” said Mikaelian. “Liberty Square will bring us liberty.”