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More Opposition Mayors Arrested In Armenia


Armenia - Meghri community head Mkhitar Zakarian.

Law-enforcement authorities have arrested the heads of two more communities of Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province in a continuing crackdown on local leaders and supporters of the main opposition Hayastan alliance.

One of them, Mkhitar Zakarian, was taken into custody early on Monday three days after resigning as mayor of the towns of Meghri and Agarak and several nearby villages making up a single administrative unit.

The Investigative Committee said afterwards that he has been formally charged with abuse of power and fraud. Zakarian rejected the accusations through his lawyer, Yerem Sargsian.

Sargsian said Zakarian was manhandled by masked and heavily armed police officers shortly after arriving, together with him, at a police department in Yerevan. He said Zakarian was toppled to the ground, filmed and dragged away by the officers despite not putting up any resistance.

The lawyer condemned the police actions as a gross violation of the due process aimed at humiliating and intimidating his client.

Zakarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Saturday that he decided to step down to make sure that his community and local government employees do not suffer from fresh criminal proceedings launched against him.

“Employees of the community administration are constantly summoned to the police,” he said.

Zakarian, who was elected to the National Assembly on the Hayastan ticket, also said he decided to take up his seat in Armenia’s new parliament.

Also detained was Suren Ohanjanian, who runs the village of Vorotan, which is part of another Syunik community comprising the town of Goris.

Ohanjanian is prosecuted in connection with financial aid allocated to 31 Vorotan residents from the community budget in early June. Prosecutors claim that he told some of them to vote for Hayastan in the June 20 general elections. The village chief’s brother flatly denied the allegation when he spoke with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

Armenia - Former President Robert Kocharian speaks at an election campaign rally held by his Hayastan alliance in Kapan, administrative center of Syunik province, June 7, 2021.
Armenia - Former President Robert Kocharian speaks at an election campaign rally held by his Hayastan alliance in Kapan, administrative center of Syunik province, June 7, 2021.

Lusine Avetian, the head of another village close to Goris, was arrested a week ago because of similar cash handouts given to several local residents. She too denies trying to buy their votes.

A pro-opposition TV station based in Syunik showed one of those residents saying over the weekend that police officers bullied his wife into giving false incriminating testimony against Avetian. The man insisted that his family was never told to back the opposition bloc which finished second in the elections.

Meanwhile, a court in Yerevan allowed law-enforcement authorities to hold the mayor of another Syunik town, Kajaran, in detention pending investigation. The mayor, Manvel Paramazian, was arrested on Thursday and charged afterwards with vote buying and fraud.

Paramazian’s lawyer, Lusine Sahakian, said he rejects the accusations as politically motivated.

Paramazian and Zakarian already faced other accusations before their arrests. They as well as the head of the Goris municipality, Arush Arushanian, were among the heads of more than a dozen Syunik communities who issued late last year statements condemning Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s handling of the autumn war with Azerbaijan and demanding his resignation.

Some of them encouraged supporters to disrupt Pashinian’s visit to Syunik in December. The prime minister faced angry protests when he finally toured Goris, Agarak, Meghri and the provincial capital Kapan in May.

Armenia - Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian brandishes a hammer at a campaign meeting in Sisian, Syunik province, June 15, 2021.
Armenia - Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian brandishes a hammer at a campaign meeting in Sisian, Syunik province, June 15, 2021.

The embattled Syunik mayors and a former provincial governor, Vahe Hakobian, lead an opposition party affiliated with Hayastan. The opposition bloc headed by former President Robert Kocharian last week condemned the continuing “repressions” against its members and said that they will “further deepen the political crisis” in Armenia.

During the election campaign Pashinian vowed to wage “political vendettas” against local government officials supporting the opposition.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Kajaran, he said: “I promise you that you will see those scumbag officials lying here on the asphalt.”

Pashinian repeatedly brandished on the campaign trail a hammer symbolizing a popular “steel mandate” which he said will allow him to rule Armenia with a more firm hand.

“With this thing we will be taking out those rusty nails, upstarts huddling in various municipalities from many places, including this place,” he told supporters in Sisian, another Syunik town run by an anti-Pashinian mayor.

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