By Anush MartirosianA son of Manvel Grigorian, a top Armenian army general fired last spring for his presumed links with the opposition, was elected mayor of the southern town of Echmiadzin on Sunday, defeating a candidate of the ruling Republican Party (HHK).
According to preliminary official results of the election, Karen Grigorian, garnered almost 60 percent of the vote. His controversial rival, Hakob Hakobian, got 34 percent.
Hakobian is a businessman and member of the HHK who represented an Echmiadzin constituency in parliament until 2007. He lost his parliament seat in the May 2007 elections after the HHK decided to back another pro-government candidate. HHK lawmakers had earlier voted to allow law-enforcement authorities to prosecute him on charges of assault and fraud.
Hakobian, better known as “Choyt,” never went to prison or even stood trial, however. Observers believe the party led by President Serzh Sarkisian decided to renew its support for the controversial businessman in order to reduce the retired general’s influence in Echmiadzin and surrounding villages.
Manvel Grigorian was dismissed as deputy defense minister and forced to retire from the Armenian military by outgoing President Robert Kocharian on April 2. The sacking came just over two weeks after Sarkisian said that the general “tried to get into politics and disobey the commander-in-chief” in the wake of the February 19 presidential election.
Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition presidential candidate, claimed to have secured the backing of Grigorian and another deputy defense minister, Gurgen Melkonian, as he began on February 21 a campaign of non-stop rallies against the official results of the disputed election.
Both generals were conspicuously absent from Kocharian’s meeting two days later with the top army brass during which he ordered the Armed Forces to thwart what he called an opposition attempt at coup d’etat.
Grigorian insisted in a May statement that he did not back Ter-Petrosian before or after the election. The general was more ambiguous on that score as he spoke to RFE/RL in Echmiadzin’s central square on Monday. When asked whether he has ever supported or participated in Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement, he said: “The movement is the people’s, it’s not anyone’s property.”
“I’m with the people,” Grigorian said when pressed on his political leanings. He said Armenians should “stand firm” in their pursuit of justice but did not elaborate.
Grigorian was also asked whether his son’s election win could make him more active in the political arena. “I’m already active. If you don’t believe me, you can ask Choyt. I got engaged with him last night,” he said, prompting a laughter from loyalists surrounding him.
Karen Grigorian, meanwhile, told RFE/RL that his victory set an important precedent for future local elections in Armenia. Those polls have usually be won by HHK-candidates not least because of voter apathy and a lack of opposition interest.