An opposition alliance led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian accused the Armenian authorities of spreading an “atmosphere of fear” ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections after three of its supports were shot, stabbed and beaten up on Tuesday.
The three residents of Jrarat, a village 20 kilometers southwest of Yerevan, were taken to a hospital in the Armenian capital after being attacked by a large group of other locals. One of them, the 27-year-old Hakob Melkonian, was shot from an assault rifle and wounded in the leg, while his uncle Melik Melkonian was stabbed in the back.
Ohanian’s ORO bloc said the two men were “ambushed” by dozens of government loyalists as they rushed to help Melik’s 17-year-old son Ara moments after he was beaten up outside the village school. The teenager suffered a broken arm.
Law-enforcement authorities said later in the day that they arrested one man in connection with the violent attacks. Armenia’s Investigative Committee said it has launched a criminal inquiry and has already obtained “factual data regarding motives behind the dispute.” “The circle of participants is being clarified,” it added without elaborating.
The violence occurred just two days after another incident in Jrarat that followed a campaign rally held there by Ohanian and other ORO leaders. Several local supporters of the opposition bloc clashed with other men said who allegedly swore at them. One of those men, Lernik Yeranosian, fired gunshots during the clash.
Yeranosian is a police officer whose brother Levon is a highly controversial deputy chief of the national police service. Jrarat’s pro-government mayor, Samvel Galstian is their cousin. ORO representatives have accused Galstian of orchestrating both incidents to bully villagers sympathetic to the opposition.
In a statement, the ORO leadership condemned the latest incident in the village, saying that it is fraught with “unpredictable political consequences.” It claimed that the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) is trying to “keep Armenian citizens in an atmosphere of fear” and thus discourage them from voting for opposition forces in the April 2 elections.
The statement also alleged that police officers witnessed the latest attacks in Jrarat but “did nothing” to stop them.
“This is a pre-election banditry, an attempt to spread terror,” Stepan Markarian, a senior ORO member, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service at the Erebuni hospital where the three victims were due to undergo surgeries.
Armen Ashotian, a deputy chairman of the HHK, dismissed the allegations. “The Republican Party does not need to conduct its election campaign and participate in the elections with violations of the law,” he said. “I think the investigation will establish the causes of the incident and there is absolutely no need to make political evaluations of this incident now.”
Ashotian went on to accuse ORO of exploiting the tensions in Jrarat to boost its electoral chances.