Speaking one week after being accused of ordering a physical assault on one of those mayors, Aram Khachatrian claimed that Civil Contract’s victory in the snap elections also amounted to a vote of no confidence in them. He also indicated that some of them will face criminal charges soon.
“In my subjective view, these people must resign and again participate in [local] elections to understand whether or not people trust them,” said Khachatrian. “This is the only civilized path.”
During the 12-day election campaign Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian pledged to wage “political vendettas” against local government officials supporting the opposition. Shortly after the announcement of the election results, his chief of staff, Arsen Torosian, effectively demanded that those officials step down.
Armenian media outlets reported in the following days that several provincial governors, including Khachatrian, are summoning pro-opposition village mayors and pressuring them to resign.
Arsen Titanian, the mayor of the Lori village of Odzun, claimed on June 23 to have been beaten up by Khachatrian’s subordinates inside the provincial administration building after telling the governor that he will not resign.
Armenia’s Special Investigative Service launched a criminal inquiry into the reported incident, formally recognizing Titanian as a “victim.” But the law-enforcement agency has not charged anyone so far.
Khachatrian again denied ordering the alleged beating of the village chief supporting former President Robert Kocharian’s Hayastan alliance, the official runner-up in the snap elections.
The heads of several other rural communities of Lori also backed Hayastan or former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Pativ Unem bloc during the parliamentary race. They include Mher Gevorgian, the longtime mayor of the village of Gyulagarak and several smaller villages making up a single community.
Gevorgian made clear that although the ruling party scored a landslide victory in his community he will not bow to the government pressure.
“Why should I resign?” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “I was elected by the [local] people. If the people say, ‘Dear Mher, resign,’ I will resign. If not … I will even run in the next [local] election.”
Odzun’s Titanian similarly reiterated that he intends to serve out his fourth term in office which ends in autumn 2022.
Khachatrian, who was appointed as provincial governor by the central government, claimed that at least some of the pro-opposition mayors tried to force local residents not to vote for Pashinian’s party or attend its campaign rallies. They will be held accountable soon, he said without naming anyone or giving other details.
Meanwhile, the Union of Communities of Armenia, which represents the country’s elected local administrations, condemned on Wednesday attempts to get rid of dissident mayors as illegal and undemocratic.
“Local self-government bodies are not part of the central executive authority,” the union’s chairman Emin Yeritsian, said in a statement. “They are not changed as a result of parliamentary elections.”
Hayastan’s leadership condemned the government pressure last week.
Individuals linked to the opposition bloc run many towns and villages in southeastern Syunik province. They demanded Pashinian’s resignation shortly after Armenia’s defeat in the autumn war with Azerbaijan. At least three of them were prosecuted on different charges in the following months.