A mayoral candidate from Vanadzor was detained on Wednesday after being accused of a violent assault connected with a weekend local election held in Armenia’s third largest city.
Arkadi Peleshian topped the list of candidates of the Armenian Renaissance Party for the municipal council that will elect the city’s new mayor. The party, which claims to be in opposition to the Armenian government, finished third in the October 2 election, winning 5 of the 33 council seats.
The Armenian police announced a hunt for Peleshian after the Rev. Rafael Grigorian, the head of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Vanadzor, claimed to have been beaten up by the candidate late on Tuesday. The police tracked down and detained Peleshian in Yerevan the following morning.
A police spokesperson said that he will be taken back to Vanadzor for further questioning. It was not immediately clear whether he will be formally charged.
Grigorian said Peleshian began punching and swearing at him after bursting into his private residence together with more than a dozen other men. He said one of those men threatened to kill him when he tried to escape.
According to the Protestant priest, Peleshian gave no reasons for assaulting him. He suggested that the candidate was unhappy with the fact that he did not urge the church faithful to vote for the Armenian Renaissance.
Grigorian claimed that Peleshian has a “criminal reputation” in Vanadzor. “A thug wanted to become mayor,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
A union of Armenian evangelical churches was quick to strongly condemn the reported incident and urge the country’s political leadership to ensure that it is properly investigated. In a statement, it spoke of an “assault on not only a particular individual but Armenia’s entire evangelical community.”
Heghine Bisharian, an Armenian Renaissance leader, downplayed the incident, calling it a mere “scuffle.” “I don’t know who hit whom in the nose,” she said, adding that nobody was hospitalized as a result.
Grigorian did require medical assistance at a local hospital, however. A senior doctor there, Karen Bekchian, said the priest may have suffered head injuries and was advised to undergo a more thorough medical examination. “He refused,” Bekchian told reporters.
Led by Artur Baghdasarian and until recently called Orinats Yerkir, Armenian Renaissance was a junior partner in President Serzh Sarkisian’s coalition governments from 2008 through 2014. Some commentators question its current opposition credentials, suspecting Baghdasarian’s party of secretly collaborating with the authorities. Baghdasarian and his allies dismiss such claims.
Incidentally, Peleshian is a godson of Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker and the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Sharmazanov insisted on Wednesday that he “will not interfere” in the criminal investigation launched by the police. “If it turns out that such an incident really happened … it’s condemnable and unacceptable,” Sharmazanov said.