President Serzh Sarkisian cancelled a rally in Yerevan and decided not to air any campaign aids on Friday following an apparent attempt on the life of one of his election challengers.
He also strongly condemned the armed attack on Paruyr Hayrikian, one of the three main opposition candidates, saying that it was aimed at disrupting Armenia’s upcoming presidential election.
Sarkisian was scheduled to rally supporters in the city’s Malatia-Sebastia district on Friday.
A statement by his election campaign headquarters said the pre-election gathering was postponed indefinitely. It also announced that the presidential team withdrew campaign ads that were due to be aired by Armenian Public Television and private broadcasters on Friday.
Although the statement gave no reason for the move, it was clearly connected with the previous night’s attack on Hayrikian.
The Armenian president, who is running for reelection, visited Hayrikian recovering in a Yerevan hospital later on Friday.” “This despicable crime is directed not only against presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikian, not only against statesman Paruyr Hayrikian but also against our statehood,” he told journalists immediately after the visit. “It is evident that those who are behind this crime aimed to influence the normal course of the elections.”
Sarkisian promised that law-enforcement authorities will do their best to identify the culprits and wished Hayrikian quick recovery. “Ask everyone to wish Paruyr good health,” he said.
Sarkisian did not answer an RFE/RL correspondent’s question about the possibility of postponing the election because of the shooting.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian and other presidential elections visited Hayrikian overnight, shortly after he was hospitalized with a gun wound. The premier declared that the shooting was a “blow” primarily directed at the Armenian authorities. Two other major opposition contenders, Hrant Bagratian and Raffi Hovannisian, dismissed that statement.
Bagratian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the authorities should instead quickly solve the case. “We are not investigators, have no theories and cannot claim that the authorities were behind this,” he said. “But since there is this atmosphere of terror this is the government’s problem.”
“I believe that this is a blow not to the authorities, as the prime minister said, but to the people of Armenia, the Armenian statehood and me personally,” Hovannisian said for his part. “Somebody is scared of the people’s voice and realization of the people’s rights.”
Bagratian and Hovannisian agreed that it is now up to Hayrikian to decide whether the election should be postponed or go ahead as planned on February 18. They also made clear that while they do not feel secure now they will refuse renewed police offers of armed protection.
The Armenian police reaffirmed their readiness to provide armed bodyguards to all candidates and thus guarantee their security in a statement issued on Friday. The police first made such an offer before the official start of the election campaign on January 21.
The attack on Hayrikian was condemned by most of Armenia’s major political forces. “We are expressing our human solidarity with him and expect a quick and productive investigation from law-enforcement bodies,” Tigran Urikhanian, a spokesman for the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), said in a statement.