By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian pleaded Thursday for support from voters in Yerevan’s southern working-class neighborhoods, saying that Armenia would finally emerge from its economic doldrums during his second term in office.
“Five more years, and the country’s face, standing and quality will change. And I call on you to build that country together [with me],” Kocharian declared on the campaign trail in the capital’s industrial Shengavit district, which has been hit hard by the collapse of the Soviet-era command economy.
“The chosen path is a right one,” he told thousands of people attending his rally. “We just have to be a little patient and work more single-mindedly. I am sure that we will revive what Shengavit used to have.”
The city district had the highest concentration of large factories in Armenia before the 1991 Soviet collapse. Those include the country’s two biggest industrial enterprises: the Hayelektro engineering plant and the Nairit chemical giant. Both companies have gone through rocky times in the last ten years and currently operate at a fraction of their capacity.
Not surprisingly, a large part of Kocharian’s speech was devoted to the fate of the idle industries that employed most local residents. He pledged to revive them with government assistance.
Among those addressing the rally was a young woman who presented herself as a representative of the Hayelektro staff. “The overwhelming majority of our several thousand workers have already made a choice and will vote for Mr. Kocharian,” she said, reading a written speech.
Hayelektro was for many years managed by Karen Demirchian, the assassinated father of Stepan Demirchian, whom many see as Kocharian’s number one challenger. The plant’s workers had strongly supported the 1998 presidential bid of the late Demirchian.
Another speaker, tobacco magnate Hrant Vartanian, openly derided Demirchian Jr. when he said: “Do not listen to mama’s boys. They know nothing about real life.”
The Kocharian campaign has been trying to portray the opposition candidate as an inexperienced politician who can not be entrusted with the presidential office. Leaders of his People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) complain that the pro-Kocharian state television’s coverage of Demirchian’s campaign trips is particularly biased.
The Shengavit rally was marred by an apparently violent incident involving a woman who carried Demirchian’s posters and chanted anti-government slogans. Witnesses, who also appeared to be opposition supporters, said a senior police officer she hit and sent her tumbling down the stairs leading to the local underground station. The woman, identified as Lika Karapetian, had difficulty speaking as she lay on the floor, surrounded by police officers trying to help her. An ambulance called by them hospitalized her shortly afterwards.
Kocharian, meanwhile, vowed to “do a better job in the next five years” if he is reelected president. “I have done what was possible to do. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible for me to engage in constructive activities for the full five years. During the first two years we were mainly dealing with crises,” he said, referring to the 1999 massacre in the Armenian parliament that nearly cost him the presidency.
“But now, after the elections, the country will have an opportunity for a five-year stable development. We can use it in full,” Kocharian added.
The pledge sounded convincing to many of his supporters. “He has proved that he keeps his word,” said Hakob Muradian, an unemployed Shengavit resident. “I personally haven’t seen any improvement in my life in the last five years. But I don’t judge the situation with own plight because all in all, progress is visible.”
“Kocharian has laid the groundwork for development,” agreed Razmik Hovakimian, a pensioner. “We should just let him continue the work.”