The European Union expressed on Thursday serious concern at violent attacks on opposition supporters in an Armenian village, warning that failure to punish their perpetrators could complicate the proper conduct of Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections.
Piotr Switalski, head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, also urged Armenians not to sell their votes and made clear that the Armenian authorities will be able to count on more EU aid if the April 2 polls meet democratic standards.
“Of course, we are very worried, very concerned,” Switalski said, commenting on the election-related incidents that occurred in the village of Jrarat.
Three Jrarat residents sympathetic to the ORO opposition alliance were hospitalized with serious injuries on Tuesday after being attacked by a large group of other men allegedly linked to the village mayor affiliated with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). One of the victims was shot and wounded while another was stabbed.
The incident occurred two days after a police officer living in Jrarat fired gunshots while clashing with several ORO sympathizers following a rally held by the opposition bloc in the village 20 kilometers southwest of Yerevan. The officer, Lernik Yeranosian, is a brother of Levon Yeranosian, a controversial deputy chief of the Armenian police. The Jrarat mayor is their cousin.
ORO leaders claim that Levon Yeranosian personally directed the attackers on Tuesday. A police spokesman insisted on Wednesday that the police general was not in the village during the incident.
Switalski urged Armenian law-enforcement authorities to identify and hold accountable those responsible for the attacks. Or else, he said, such incidents could “snowball” into more serious trouble.
“When you don’t properly react to first cases of violence then you may have a very bad situation which is very difficult to control,” warned the diplomat. “I hope that they will be doing their job,” said of the police and other law-enforcement bodies.
Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, who leads the HHK’s election campaign, strongly condemned the Jrarat violence on Wednesday. He said the law-enforcement bodies are taking “necessary investigative actions” to solve the case.
So far only one man has been arrested in connection with Tuesday’s incident.
Switalski also reiterated that the EU expects the Armenian authorities to hold free and fair elections, having provided them with over $7 million in financial assistance for that purpose. “Good elections in Armenia will boost relations with the European Union,” he told reporters, adding that they will also lead to more EU aid to Armenia.
The EU funding cited Switalski is being used for the purchase of special electronic equipment designed to prevent multiple voting as well as web cameras for live online broadcasts of voting and ballot counting from the vast majority of Armenian polling stations. Installation of these devices was part of an election-related agreement reached by the Armenian government and the parliamentary opposition last fall.
Opposition representatives have already questioned the government’s stated commitment to democratic elections, saying that the HHK and its individual candidates, many of them wealthy individuals, are buying votes. The ruling party denies this.
Switalski seemed to echo concerns about widespread vote buying, openly urging Armenians to refuse vote bribes. “You may be approached by people who will be offering you money or services,” he said, appealing to them. “I hope that Armenians will reject such offers. No amount of money is worth your votes. Don’t sell your votes.”