The directors of 30 public schools and kindergartens have dropped their controversial lawsuit against an Armenian civic group that tricked them into confessing that they are campaigning for the ruling Republican Party (HHK) in parliamentary elections.
The Union of Informed Citizens (UIC) revealed in the run-up to the April 2 elections that its activists posing as HHK representatives telephoned 136 schools and kindergarten chiefs across Armenia. It said 114 of them admitted drawing up lists of children’s parents as well as schoolteachers and kindergarten staff who pledged to vote for the HHK.
The UIC said the lists were submitted to local government bodies or HHK campaign offices. It also publicized audio of those phone conversations.
Armenian opposition forces portrayed the revelations as further proof of their allegations of HHK foul play in the parliamentary race.
The HHK admitted that many school principals participated in its election campaign. But it claimed that they did so “beyond their work hours and work duties.” The party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian also denied that they illegally pressurized their staffs and children’s parents.
Shortly after the elections, 30 principals filed a libel suit against the UIT and one of its leaders, Daniel Ioannisian. They demanded a formal apology and a total of 60 million drams ($124,000) in damages for the information which they said compromised their “honor and dignity.”
The legal action was strongly criticized by the Armenian opposition and civil society. The HHK defended it, however.
A lawyer for plaintiffs, Harutiun Harutiunian, said on Monday that they decided to withdraw the lawsuit after one of them, Susan Galstian, publicly urged her colleagues to be “forgiving” towards Ioannisian’s group. The announcement coincided with the first court hearing in the high-profile civil case. Neither the plaintiffs nor their lawyers were present in the courtroom.
Ioannisian suggested that the principals’ latest decision was ordered by the HHK leadership. “Our revelations amounted to an accusation of abuse of administrative resources addressed to the HHK, and it was the HHK, not the school directors, who had a problem with those revelations,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
But one of the plaintiffs, who runs a kindergarten in Yerevan, denied that. “It was my personal decision,” claimed Naira Gevorgian. “I was angry with [Ioannisian’s] actions at that moment but have now forgiven him,” she said.
In their final election report released last week, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mentioned the UIC recordings in the context of “credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies.”