Garegin Azarian, the longtime chairman of Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) unexpectedly died late on Friday.
In a short statement, the CEC said Azarian, 50, died of a heart attack and will be buried on Monday.
It was not immediately known if President Serzh Sarkisian attended the funeral. The president and his office issued on statements on the sudden death as of Monday evening.
A former local government head and senior civil servant, Azarian has headed the commission since 2003. He was in charge of the disputed presidential election of February 2008 that sparked the worst street violence in Armenia’s history. He was controversially re-appointed as CEC chairman in July.
That development was denounced by Armenia’s leading opposition forces that consider Azarian personally responsible for serious fraud reported during the 2008 ballot. They said the fact that the CEC will continue to be headed by the official bodes ill for the freedom and fairness of the next Armenian elections.
Azarian as well as representatives of Armenia’s political leadership dismissed those claims.
Azarian seemed to be in good health when he was last interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) three days before his death. He was asked to comment on newly publicized allegations by a senior U.S. diplomat that the 2008 election was rigged in Sarkisian’s favor.
In a classified cable sent to Washington in March 2008 and published by WikiLeaks on August 30, Joseph Pennington, the former U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, suggested that opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian garnered far more votes than were shown by official vote results and should have qualified for a run-off against Sarkisian.
Azarian strongly denied that claim, saying that it was not backed up by concrete facts. He argued that observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that the election was held “mostly in accordance” with democratic standards.
According to the official results, Sarkisian won outright with about 53 percent of the vote. Ter-Petrosian, his main challenger, rejected the figure as fraudulent and staged non-stop demonstrations in Yerevan to demand a re-run of the vote.
Eight protesters and two security personnel were killed and more than 200 other people injured as the Armenian authorities quelled the protests on March 1-2, 2008.