By Ruzanna Stepanian
A close associate of Artur Baghdasarian accused the authorities on Wednesday of wire-tapping the telephones of the embattled former parliament speaker and other leaders of his opposition Orinats Yerkir Party.
Baghdasarian has been on the defensive since the disclosure by a pro-government newspaper late last month of embarrassing details of his recent secretly recorded conversation with a senior British diplomat which focused on the May 12 parliamentary elections. President Robert Kocharian has said his reported calls for the European Union to already criticize the Armenian government’s handling of the vote amounted to high treason. Baghdasarian has rejected the charges, saying that his dinner meeting with the diplomat was eavesdropped on by security services as part of a government “smear campaign” against Orinats Yerkir.
Heghine Bisharian, the number two figure in the party hierarchy, claimed that the phones of the top Orinats Yerkir figures are also being illegally wire-tapped by the National Security Service. “I know that my phone is wire-tapped,” she said. “Aren’t they ashamed of doing that?”
Bisharian could no offer any proof of the allegation and dismissed suggestions that Orinats Yerkir lodge a complaint with the authorities. “Who should we complain to?” she asked at a news conference. “What should we say [to the government?] Punish yourself?”
She went on to allege that the scandal has left the ambitious ex-speaker’s life “in danger.” Orinats Yerkir fears that he might be the target of an assassination attempt, she added without elaborating.
Baghdasarian has implicitly made similar allegations in some of his campaign speeches. But in a weekend interview with RFE/RL, he was reluctant to dwell on them. “I don’t want any of my compatriots to experience what we have,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about specific examples now.”
Orinats Yerkir, which claims to have more than 100,000 members, is one of the main opposition contenders of the polls not least because of its young leader’s populist appeal and its well-organized grassroots structures. Tens of thousands of people have attended campaign rallies held by the party across the country.
In Bisharian’s words, Orinats Yerkir is now more popular than it was during the last parliamentary elections when it won 22 percent of the vote. She said its leaders have received “reports” that the authorities have instructed election officials to steal votes cast for their party. “If we establish that that is true, we will publicize the names of those officials,” she said.
Bisharian alleged that the Kocharian administration is also planning to resort to other vote irregularities, notably vote buying. She was asked in that regard to comment on reports that Samvel Balasanian, another Orinats Yerkir leader who owns a brewery in Gyumri, offered local residents beer free of charge on Tuesday.
Bisharian confirmed the beer treat but insisted that it does not constitute a vote bribe. “Samvel Balasanian opened a plant yesterday and treated people to beer in connection with the opening,” she said. “That person does charitable work 12 months a year.”