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Ex-Athlete Denies Insulting Sarkisian


Armenia -- Former Olympic champion Albert Azarian holds a news conference on December 11, 2009.

Armenia -- Former Olympic champion Albert Azarian holds a news conference on December 11, 2009.

One of Armenia’s most celebrated athletes on Friday denied swearing at President Serzh Sarkisian in a scandalous video that was posted on the Internet this week and quickly became a hit.


The YouTube clip shows the recording of two of Sarkisian’s televised campaign advertisements shot in the run up to the February 2008 presidential election. It features Azarian and Hrant Tokhatian, a prominent actor and television showman.

Azarian, 80, is shown muttering abuse at Sarkisian as he stumbles while recording an apparently pre-written message urging Armenians to vote for outgoing President Robert Kocharian’s preferred successor.

Tokhatian, for his part, is shown repeatedly swearing at then Yerevan Mayor Yervand Zakharian, triggering laughter among the invisible film crew. One man behind the camera can be heard saying jokingly that the offensive comment would actually earn Sarkisian more votes if it was aired.

Armenia -- Screenshot of a YouTube video showing Olympic champion Albert Azarian insulting President Sarkissian, Yerevan, 11Dec2009
The clip was posted on YouTube by an anonymous user on Monday and has since attracted more than 29,000 views, making front-page news in some Yerevan newspapers. In a video subtitle, the user said such disparaging statements could have never be made under Kocharian.

Azarian, who won three Olympic gold medals and numerous other titles as a Soviet Armenian gymnast in the 1950s and 1960s, claimed that the images featuring him are a “100 percent montage” and insisted that he genuinely supports Sarkisian. “How could I do such a thing?” he told a news conference “It’s not possible.”

“If I praise [Sarkisian] and really mean that, why would I say such a stupidity? If I were to say that, I would have said that two years ago and they would have shown it two years ago,” he said.

Azarian, who also heads the Armenian Gymnastics Federation, said the individuals behind the alleged montage were keen to “discredit” him and urged the authorities to track them down. “People are dealing with the matter,” he said without elaborating.

The former athlete also said Sarkisian’s office or other state bodies have not demanded explanations from him. The presidential administration has yet to comment on the scandal.

“I have no reason to distrust Albert Azarian,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia. “Those people who do such things are engaged in a notorious and useless exercise.”

Tokhatian refused to comment on the affair when contacted by RFE/RL. Zakharian, the target of his swear words, currently runs the State Cadastre Committee.

According to some newspaper reports, Sarkisian’s campaign spots were filmed by the private firm Proxy PR. Its director, Ashot Arakelian, is also the head of the Yerevan municipality’s press service. Arakelian declined a comment on Friday.

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