By Ruzanna Stepanian
Tensions were rising on Monday in an electoral district south of Yerevan where the top pro-government candidate, the recently retired General Seyran Saroyan, was implicated in attacks against his two challengers reported over the weekend.
Hakob Hakobian, a controversial member of Armenia’s outgoing parliament, claimed that unknown gunmen shot at his car while he dined in a restaurant in the town of Echmiadzin on Sunday. The other challenger, Susanna Harutiunian, reported an arson attack on her campaign headquarters in Echmiadzin on the same day.
Both candidates pointed the finger at Saroyan, who has been endorsed by the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). But Saroyan strongly denied the allegations, saying that his rivals themselves stage-managed the attacks in order to discredit him.
“We suspect that police officers were among the shooters,” Hakobian told RFE/RL. He alleged that they acted on orders from the regional governor who in turn received instructions from Saroyan. “The governor is doing everything to create an atmosphere of fear in the area ahead of the elections,” Hakobian said.
“He is trying to throw mud at me without feeling ashamed,” countered the feared general, who holds sway in Echmiadzin and the surrounding area. “I guess even you won’t believe that I could have done such a cheap thing,” he told RFE/RL.
“Seyran Saroyan has once again proved that he is nuts,” shot back Hakobian. “How can someone shoot at himself?”
Police in Echmiadzin said they have launched a criminal investigation into the reported shooting. They were also conducting forensic tests at Harutiunian’s office to determine whether it was damaged by fire or an arson attack.
Saroyan resigned as commander of Armenia’s Fourth Army Corps and was discharged from the armed forces earlier this year to be able to run for parliament. The move provoked speculation that the HHK is trying to make sure that Hakobian, who joined the ruling party last year, is not reelected to the National Assembly. Hakobian, better known as Choyt, was charged with assault and tax evasion after allegedly instigating a mass brawl outside a gas station near Echmiadzin last October.
In a further blow to the disgraced parliamentarian, the district election commission has registered another candidate affiliated with the HHK and named Hakob Hakobian. The latter is currently trying to ensure that his influential namesake is disqualified from the race, accusing him of forging voters’ signatures to win registration.
A court in Echmiadzin continued to consider the obscure candidate’s complaint, endorsed by Saroyan, amid tight security on Monday. Special police units from Yerevan were deployed in and round the court house to prevent possible clashes between supporters of the rival sides. “We have made commitments to different programmes and we think compliance is in our interest,” he said. We want to become part of the European family.”