By Ruzanna Khachatrian, Karine Kalantarian, and Satenik Vantsian in Gyumri
Two Yerevan offices of the pro-presidential Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) were rocked by explosions early Thursday in what President Robert Kocharian promptly condemned as an attempt to destabilize the political situation in the country ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections.
The blasts occurred in the space of two hours early in the morning, blowing out the doors and windows of the BHK offices in the city’s northern Kanaker-Zeytun and Avan districts but not injuring anyone. Police said they were caused by explosive devices planted at the entrance to the premises.
The Avan office, which occupies a single room on the ground floor of an apartment building, was particularly damaged by the blast. BHK workers were already repairing it early in the afternoon. Several apartments in the 16-story building also had their windows shattered by the blast.
“We are not scared of anything,” said Levon Asatrian, head of the BHK’s Avan chapter.
Police quickly examined the sites of the bombings and launched a criminal investigation under an article of Armenia’s Criminal Code that deals with substantial material damage deliberately inflicted on private property.
According to Kocharian’s press secretary, Victor Soghomonian, the president of the republic, who is widely believed to support the BHK, instructed law-enforcement authorities to “take all necessary measures to solve the crime as soon as possible.”
“Strongly condemning these crimes, we evaluate them an attempt to destabilize the situation and create an atmosphere of intolerance in the run-up to the elections,” Soghomonian told RFE/RL. “Manifestations of extremism can not undermine Armenia’s resolve to hold democratic elections.”
The BHK echoed that evaluation at an emergency meeting of its governing council headed by Gagik Tsarukian, a millionaire businessman close to Kocharian. But it avoided blaming anyone for the blasts.
“We believe that that crime is directed not only against the BHK but the entire republic,” the BHK spokesman, Baghdasar Mherian, told RFE/RL. “We are grateful to the president of the republic for his swift reaction and highly appreciate his statement,” he said.
The governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), one of the BHK’s main election rivals, promptly condemned the blasts, in what looked like a denial of any responsibility for them. “Such actions are taken by those who are incapable of waging an honest and just political struggle and are ready to destabilize the situation in the country,” the party said in a statement.
The HHK, which is led by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and the BHK are widely seen as the two frontrunners in the Armenian election campaign. There are fears that the obviously uneasy rapport between their leaders could flare up into a bitter confrontation on election day.
Those fears grew after the May 25 local election in the southern town of Armavir. Its incumbent Republican mayor controversially defeated his main challenger representing the BHK. The latter refused to concede defeat, alleging massive electoral fraud.
Meanwhile, the BHK itself was implicated in election-related violence on Thursday when a resident of Artik, a small town in northwestern Armenia, claimed to have been badly beaten up by local activists of Tsarukian’s party. The man, Smbat Poghosian, was hospitalized with severe injuries the previous night.
Speaking to RFE/RL from his hospital bed, Poghosian said he was attacked by a group of men after “accidentally” tearing up a campaign poster of the local BHK candidate, Mushegh Pepoyan. Police in Artik opened a criminal case in connection with the incident.
Pepoyan admitted that his supporters attacked Poghosian. But he said they did so only after he deliberately destroyed several BHK posters and assaulted other Tsarukian party activists on Tuesday.
Pepoyan’s main election rival, Mikael Varagian, is not officially affiliated with the HHK but is thought to be backed by Artik’s Republican mayor.