By Shakeh Avoyan in Aparan
Paruyr Hayrikian, a prominent Soviet-era dissident, joined on Tuesday the Armenian Communists, until now his bitter foes, to campaign for opposition presidential candidate Artashes Geghamian in the mountainous Aragatsotn province.
In his first-ever joint action with the Armenian Communist Party (HKK), Hayrikian urged residents of the provincial town of Aparan and nearby villages to vote for Geghamian and reject his rivals both in the government and opposition. “The materialist Communists and the pro-independence Hayrikian have joined forces in the name of Artashes Geghamian,” he declared at a campaign rally attended by hundreds of opposition supporters.
Hayrikian said the fact that he dropped out of the race in favor of Geghamian attests to the latter’s stature as an experienced and skilled statesman capable of dealing with Armenia’s post-Soviet socioeconomic woes. He also attacked Geghamian’s main opposition rivals, Stepan Demirchian and former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian, portraying them as inexperienced politicians exploiting popular sympathy for their assassinated relatives: Karen Demirchian and Vazgen Sarkisian.
Demirchian is thought to have reinforced his position as the most popular opposition contender after receiving important endorsements from Sarkisian and Raffi, Hovannisian, the U.S.-born former foreign minister. According to most opinion polls, he is now Kocharian’s number one challenger followed by Geghamian.
Hayrikian, who had spent 17 years in Soviet labor camps for advocating Armenia’s independence, surprised political observers when he threw his weight behind Geghamian, a left-wing politician who has embraced the Communist idea of joining the Russia-Belarus union. But Hayrikian insists that despite his pro-Russian views Geghamian will never compromise Armenia’s sovereignty.
Campaigning in the Aparan area, Geghamian again encountered strong popular disaffection with the current authorities, a sentiment used by all opposition candidates. “I will vote for anyone except [President Robert] Kocharian,” said one of the local opposition supporters.
Many of them seem to have trouble choosing between Geghamian and Demirchian. “I like both of them,” said one undecided woman.
Other local residents regretted the opposition’s failure to field a single challenger against Kocharian. “It’s very bad that there will be no single candidate,” said one of them. “They have talked so much about him.”