Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission has registered as a mayoral candidate an arrested member of an armed group that seized and held a police station in Yerevan for two weeks in a deadly standoff with security forces last month.
Arayik Khandoyan, a prominent veteran of the 1992-1994 Armenian-Azerbaijani war in Nagorno-Karabakh also known to the public as “Lone Wolf”, will stand for leader of his Tsaghkahovit community in Armenia’s western Aragatsotn province in the September 18 vote against incumbent mayor Yervand Khachatrian, who represents the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
His other opponent will be a non-partisan candidate, Norayr Hakobian. Another candidate, Ashot Hakobian, representing the parliamentary opposition Prosperous Armenia Party, has pulled out of the race living up to his promise to do so should Khandoyan be registered as a candidate.
Khandoyan, 45, was wounded, among other gunmen, in an apparent shootout with police during the siege of the police station, but refused to be hospitalized until the surrender of the Sasna Tsrer (Daredevils of Sassoun) group to the National Security Service on July 31.
Three police officers were killed and several others were wounded during the dramatic events that unfolded against the backdrop of pro-gunmen protests near the standoff venue attended by hundreds of activists and ordinary citizens.
Sasna Tsrer, a group loyal to a fringe opposition movement, Founding Parliament, presented political demands to Armenia’s leadership, including the release of their imprisoned leader Zhirayr Sefilian and other oppositionists it viewed as political prisoners. The group also sought the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian and reconsideration of a purportedly conciliatory position of the current administration in negotiations on the settlement of a protracted Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The gunmen held several police officers and ambulance workers hostage for days before letting them go. Khandoyan, who claimed they treated the people they held inside the police compound with respect and did not consider them to be hostages, is currently charged with hostage-taking and illegal arms possession.
Earlier this week, the Founding Parliament, which has avoided participation in elections under the current government, insisting that its members and loyalists should instead push for political change through street protests, urged Khandoyan to withdraw from the race.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am), leading Founding Parliament member Alek Yenigomshian said Khandoyan had decided to run for mayor without consulting the group. He said the group’s jailed leader, Sefilian, and other members also would discourage Khandoyan from running.
“The period for the withdrawal of candidacies is not over yet,” he pointed out.
Armenia’s law allows people facing criminal charges, including those in pretrial detention, to participate in elections as candidates as long as they are not convicted.
Opposition member Nikol Pashinian exercised this right when he unsuccessfully contested a parliamentary by-election in 2010 while being in pretrial detention.
Incidentally, an appeals court in Yerevan on Thursday rejected Khandoyan’s request for the lower court’s decision on his pretrial detention to be revoked.