By Emil Danielyan and Shakeh Avoyan
Justice Minister David Harutiunian continued to make a case on Thursday for President Robert Kocharian’s reelection among school teachers and students’ parents, implying that a regime change in Yerevan would make renewed fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh more likely.
Kocharian, meanwhile, held a separate campaign meeting with the headmasters of public schools of the Armenian capital.
Visiting a secondary school in the city, Harutiunian credited Kocharian with achieving a “military stability” which discourages Azerbaijan from attempting to win back Karabakh by force, one of the participants of the unpublicized meeting revealed to RFE/RL.
The source, who asked not to be identified, quoted the minister as saying that the existing balance of forces is based to a large extent on Russian-Armenian military cooperation and Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev’s continued rule. He then issued a thinly veiled warning that victory by an opposition presidential candidate would undermine that balance.
The meeting was attended by the school personnel and representatives of students’ parents. Many of their male children will be drafted into the military in the coming years and would risk their lives in the event of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
According to the witness, Harutiunian, himself a former school principal, told the audience that the meeting is “related to the upcoming presidential elections” and that he expects relevant “explanatory work” from its participants. The source said that although Harutiunian did not mention Kocharian by name, he effectively spoke out in favor of the latter’s reelection by warning of the perceived dangers of an opposition victory in the February 19 election. “I hope that you will understand me correctly,” he was quoted as saying.
Similar gatherings organized by the minister have been reported in other Yerevan schools over the past two weeks.
Harutiunian was put on the defensive by the media late last month after confirming reports that he summoned school principals in Yerevan’s Arabkir district and told them to “propagate” Kocharian’s reelection among their teachers and students’ parents. He insisted that his actions do not violate Armenia’s Electoral Code which prohibits all government officials from using their positions to support any election candidate. He argued that the school managers are not his subordinates.
“I represent the presidential team…and propagate and will propagate for the president,” he said.
Large groups of teachers and students have become a fixture in campaign rallies staged by Kocharian across Armenia. Many children admit that they are instructed to attend the gatherings during class hours.
Kocharian on Thursday underscored the important role plaid by public education workers in his reelection campaign when he held a separate meeting with the school principals from Yerevan. Laying out his educational policies for the future, he pledged to improve poor schooling conditions and raise the teachers meager salaries in the next five years.
Kocharian also attacked his election challengers, saying that the intellectual level of many opposition candidates is so low that it “discredits the office of president.” “Looking at the list [of candidates], every ordinary citizen will wonder why he is not running for president,” he said, drawing cheers from the government-appointed school managers.
One of them, Rita Arsenian of the Yerevan Secondary School No. 80, summed up their dominant sentiment when she told RFE/RL afterwards: “We are coming away from the meeting in a very good mood, and will once again be trying to persuade our staff that no other candidate is more worthy [than Kocharian].”