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Ruling Parties In Fresh Pre-Election Clash


Armenia -- Police officers guard the offices of the Prosperous Armenia Party in Yerevan's Silikian neighborhood hours after its activists reportedly clashed with local members of the ruling Republican Party on May 18, 2009. Photo by Gagik Shamshian.

Armenia -- Police officers guard the offices of the Prosperous Armenia Party in Yerevan's Silikian neighborhood hours after its activists reportedly clashed with local members of the ruling Republican Party on May 18, 2009. Photo by Gagik Shamshian.

Dozens of members of Armenia’s two largest pro-government parties reportedly again brawled in Yerevan late on Monday, heightening political tensions ahead of next week’s municipal elections. (UPDATED)

The incident occurred in the Silikian suburb which is part of the city’s western Ajapnyak district. According to newspaper reports, local activists of the Republican (HHK) and Prosperous Armenia (BHK) parties clashed shortly after Ajapnyak’s Mayor Ruben Hovsepian arrived there with his deputy Armen Baghdasarian.

Both men are affiliated with the HHK. The Ajapnyak mayor is also the brother of Armenia’s influential Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian. The latter was reported to have rushed to Silikian along with the BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian on Monday night.

Scores of police were also at the scene following the incident. Some of them spent the night there, guarding the local offices of the two governing parties.
Armenia -- A police car parked outside the offices of the pro-government Prosperous Armenia Party in Yerevans Silikian neighborhood late on May 18, 2009. Photo by Gagik Shamshian.

There were conflicting reports of what exactly sparked the clash clearly related to the May 31 elections of a municipal assembly that will choose Yerevan’s next mayor. Some newspapers said Ruben Hovsepian and his deputy were directly involved in it. Both men refused to comment on Tuesday.

The police claimed, meanwhile, that the BHK and HHK activists did not throw punches and were only engaged in a bitter political debate. The chief police spokesman, Colonel Sayat Shirinian, told RFE/RL that seven of them were briefly detained and questioned by law-enforcement officers. “Those persons noted in their explanations that there was no dispute or scuffle and that there was only a heated conversation on political issues,” said Shirinian.

Local residents painted a different picture when interviewed by RFE/RL, however. “They beat the hell out of each other,” said one woman.

Another Silikian resident, who also refused to give her name, said the violence began after Hovsepian demanded “some explanations” from the leader of the BHK’s neighborhood chapter, Vahan Karapetian. “They spoke in a car,” she claimed, citing unnamed BHK sources. “Hovsepian said, ‘Are you acting against me? What are you doing? Don’t you know that this is my neighborhood and that I must get votes here?’

“Then his deputy, Armen Baghdasarian, opened the car’s door and started hitting Vahan Karapetian. A clash between the two sides followed. They started beating, jostling each other.”

“There were guys from both sides. But of course, the Republicans prevailed,” added the woman. “They hit BHK guys in the head with baseball bats.”

That the clash was violent was not denied by Naira Zohrabian, a parliament deputy from the BHK. “We will take care of our votes regardless of who likes that and who doesn’t,” she told RFE/RL, commenting on the incident. “I am calling on all political forces not to turn the mayoral elections in Yerevan into other actions.”

A similar dispute occurred in another Yerevan district, Kanaker-Zeytun, less than a week ago. BHK activists reportedly attacked the local HHK headquarters in retaliation for the alleged beating of their comrades by Republican campaigners armed with clubs. Nobody is known to have been arrested and prosecuted in connection with that.

The incidents highlighted growing election-related tensions between the HHK, which is led by President Serzh Sarkisian, and its most important partner in the governing coalition. Tsarukian, the BHK leader, is believed to be close to former President Robert Kocharian.

“None of those incidents is connected with the elections and other political processes,” Galust Sahakian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, insisted on Tuesday. Sahakian flatly denied a newspaper claim that his son Arman was also involved in the Silikian clash.

Eduard Sharmazanov, another senior Republican, also denied any political motives behind it. “I very much disapprove of any violation of law, especially during an election period,” he said. “But we have to understand that the atmosphere escalates in the run-up to elections. There are people who may have personal or social issues that become more acute during elections.”

For his part, Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian said the Armenian government will take “serious and drastic measures” to prevent more such incidents during the mayoral race. “Such phenomena are primarily damaging for us,” he told RFE/RL. “So rest assured that measures will be taken.

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