Three opposition activists running for parliament were reportedly assaulted by government loyalists on Sunday as they campaigned in a Yerevan constituency that has long been controlled by a millionaire businessman backed by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The activists said they were surrounded by a group of men inside an apartment block while handing out booklets and leaflets urging residents of the city’s Malatia-Sebastia district to vote for Nikol Pashinian, a prominent member of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK).
Pashinian, who is also the editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, is running in a local single-mandate electoral district against Samvel Aleksanian, one of Armenia’s richest men who has represented the constituency in the National Assembly for the past decade.
“Shouting abuse, a group of young men told us, ‘Don’t stick your noses in here. Who do you think you are? We are Republicans and we have our candidate,’” one of the HAK activists, Gayane Arustamian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) “They then swore at us, demanded that we get out, and punched and slapped me in the head. I was taken by surprise.”
“When Babken [Garoyan] interfered to stop them, they pulled him away, dragged him downstairs and started beating him,” Arustamian said. “He was beaten up brutally.”
Amateur video images posted on the Internet showed bloody injuries on Garoyan’s face. According to Arustamian, he suffered a broken nose and required hospitalization.
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday that the Armenian police have opened a criminal case in connection with the incident. She said the investigation is conducted under an article of the Criminal Code that applies to violent attacks resulting in light injuries. No arrests were immediately reported by law-enforcement authorities.
Arustamian, Garoyan and the third activist, Zoya Tadevosian, are among candidates fielded by the HAK under the system of proportional representation.
The incident took place shortly after Pashinian himself was confronted in another Malatia-Sebastia neighborhood by several dozen angry women sympathetic to Aleksanian. They denounced the HAK’s activities and demanded that Pashinian stop campaigning in the area. The outspoken oppositionist politely argued with them for more than 30 minutes before leaving the scene.
Pashinian claimed on Monday that Aleksanian organized and sent the women in an attempt to disrupt his campaign. “Samvel Aleksanian is pushing forward women,” he told a news conference. “Now I’m saying, ‘Samvel, let’s come face to face and talk like men in front of our voters. Do not send women and hide behind their backs. Samvel, let’s debate.’”
“This an election, this is politics, this is not about importing sugar, this is not about producing counterfeit vodka, this is not about fooling consumers,” he said, referring to the tycoon’s controversial business activities.
The HAK leadership also pointed the finger at Aleskanian and demanded that the police prosecute those responsible for the violence. In a statement, the opposition alliance also said that the incidents made mockery of government pledges to ensure the freedom and fairness of the May 6 elections.
Aleksanian denied any involvement in both incidents, however. A written statement issued by his campaign headquarters claimed that the local women were “spontaneously” angered by Pashinian’s leaflets “disrespectful” towards the tycoon.
The leaflets referred to Aleksanian as “Lfik Samo,” a derogatory nickname with which the media-shy tycoon is better known to the public. They pointed out that he has never made a statement on the parliament floor and been absent from more than 73 percent of parliament sessions held over the past decade.
Aleksanian lives in Malatia-Sebastia and owns many businesses there. His companies also enjoy what many economic analysts regard as a de facto monopoly on imports of key foodstuffs to Armenia.
The working-class district has long been notorious for election-related trouble. It was the scene of the largest number of irregularities that were reported by the Armenian opposition, mass media and independent observers during municipal elections held in Yerevan two years ago.
Two local election commission officials and another government loyalist were jailed for vote rigging in the aftermath of the 2009 elections. They were set free shortly afterwards in accordance with a general amnesty declared by the authorities.
Aleskanian is running for reelection as a candidate of the HHK. President Serzh Sarkisian, who heads the ruling party, campaigned in Malatia-Sebastia and urged its residents to vote for the tycoon last week.