Arush Arushanian is one of the four elected local officials from Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province who demanded Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s resignation before being arrested in July on what they call trumped-up charges.
Voters in various communities across the country will go to the polls on October 17 to elect new local councils on a party-list basis.
Arushanian, 30, has run one of those communities comprising the town of Goris and several nearby villages since 2017. He still has one year left on his term in office. He will be able to technically complete it unless he is convicted by court before November 2022.
In any case, under a law enacted by Pashinian’s administration last year, the next Goris mayor will be appointed by the local council, rather than elected directly by voters.
Arushanian tops the list of candidates of an ad hoc opposition alliance set up for the upcoming vote. The alliance bearing his name will be challenged by Pashinian’s Civil Contract party.
Civil Contract’s mayoral candidate, Vladimir Abunts, is a former customs officer who joined the ruling party several days ago.
Anna Grigorian, a Syunik-born member of the Armenian parliament representing Hayastan, insisted that Arushanian is well placed to win de facto reelection despite his arrest and the fact that Civil Contract prevailed in the community in the June 20 parliamentary elections.
“I think that his being in detention will actually encourage people to go to the polls and back their mayor,” Grigorian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Friday.
“[Arushanian] stood with his fellow citizens throughout the war [with Azerbaijan,]” she said. “He was in the trenches until the last day of the war … He did everything to keep his community safe.”
Syunik borders districts southwest of Nagorno-Karabakh that were retaken by Azerbaijan during and shortly after the six-week war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire last November. The mayors of virtually all provincial towns and villages blamed Pashinian for Armenia’s defeat and demanded his resignation.
Some of them encouraged supporters to disrupt Pashinian’s December 2020 visit to Syunik. The prime minister faced angry protests by their backers when he finally toured Goris and other regional towns in May.
Most Syunik mayors joined Hayastan in the run-up to the snap parliamentary elections. Two of them were elected to Armenia’s new parliament.
They as well as Arushanian and the head of another community were arrested in July on separate charges which they and the opposition group led by former President Robert Kocharian reject as politically motivated.
Arushanian was charged with vote buying. The Special Investigative Service (SIS) says that he ordered one of his subordinates to provide financial aid to villagers promising to vote for Hayastan.
Arushanian maintains that the poverty benefits approved by the current Goris council were allocated on a regular basis and had nothing to do with the general elections.