The pro-government candidate in an upcoming parliamentary by-election in Yerevan on Wednesday categorically denied any involvement in the weekend attack on young opposition activists campaigning for his main challenger, Nikol Pashinian.
Ara Simonian also alleged that the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), of which Pashinian is a prominent member, itself orchestrated the attack to score political points ahead of the January 10 election. Pashinian, meanwhile, demanded through aides that Simonian be disqualified from the race because of the incident.
More than a dozen members of the HAK’s Hima (Now) youth wing were beaten up by a larger group of men in the city center on Sunday while campaigning for the imprisoned editor of the pro-opposition “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily. Five of them suffered serious injuries and required hospitalization.
The opposition alliance was quick to accuse the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) of organizing the attack to prevent Pashinian’s victory in the vote. It claimed that the party led by President Serzh Sarkisian is openly backing Simonian. The latter is affiliated with the National Unity Party, a once influential opposition group that now supports Sarkisian.
The Armenian police launched a criminal investigation into the incident, questioning beaten opposition youths in a Yerevan hospital and at the HAK headquarters. Nobody has been charged or detained as part of the inquiry yet.
The HAK on Tuesday accused the police of doing little to solve the case. Alliance representatives said police investigators reneged on their promise to take more depositions from attack victims and authorize their medical examination by forensic experts.
One of Pashinian’s proxies, Patvakan Hovakimian, on Wednesday demanded that a district election commission in Yerevan ask Armenia’s Administrative Court to annul Simonian’s registration as election candidate. Citing the opposition activists’ beating, Hovakimian claimed that Simonian violated election campaign rules.
The election commission said it will consider the demand. Its chairwoman, Silva Markosian, told RFE/RL that it “will definitely make an appropriate decision” if Simonian’s involvement in the violence is proved.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Simonian rejected the opposition allegations. “I think it’s a provocation,” he said. “Why? Because they [the opposition] have been trying to link me with one or another force lately.”
He also pointed to the fact that the attackers were handed metal bars before the incident. “We have information that they were members of one of the parties aligned in the HAK,” he charged without elaboration.