Armenian Campaign Turns Nasty

Opposition supporters in a major city say they have been subject to threats and intimidation.

Armenian Campaign Turns Nasty

Opposition supporters in a major city say they have been subject to threats and intimidation.

Wednesday, 30 January, 2008
The people of Vanadzor could not fail to notice the official start of Armenia’s presidential election campaign. On the morning of January 21, their town was covered in posters and photographs of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the official candidate.

Overnight, Tigran Metsi Street, the main thoroughfare through the city in the north of the country, had been decorated with pictures of Sarkisian in various sizes, accompanied by his campaign slogan, “Forward, Armenia!” The prime minister’s smiling face also stared down from two huge advertising hoardings on the main street, as well as bus-stops and apartment blocks.

So far only one of the nine candidates in the February 19 vote - former Yerevan mayor Artashes Geghamian – has actually visited Vanadzor, so the contenders have been relying on local campaigners and advertising to get their message across.

Sarkisian has top-level support in this city of 100,000 people. His campaign there is headed by mayor Samvel Darbinian, who has moved his office into the campaign headquarters, while Lori district governor Aram Kocharian leads the campaign at a regional level.

A few days after the campaign began, photographs of two opposition candidates, former speaker Artur Baghdasarian and ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian. also appeared in the city.

However, opposition campaigners said it was too late to secure advertising space. Khachik Harutiunain, head of the Vanadzor branch of Baghdasarian’s party, Orinats Yerkir, said that all the hoardings had been taken and it was impossible to buy any space.

Despite its lack of publicity, Orinats Yerkir says even its limited campaign has been the target of petty violence and intimidation. In the course of one night, the windows and name-plate of the campaign office were smashed and a poster of Baghdasarian was torn up.

In a separate incident in another part of the town, a poster of Baghdasarian was torn from a wall and burned. In a third district, Orinats Yerkir closed its office after it said its owner had been threatened by telephone.

“Our activists are being intimidated and told ‘Why you are supporting them? You should support another candidate’,” said Harutiunian.

The police have been informed about these incidents, as well as an incident in which a poster of Ter-Petrosian was torn up and defaced and the door of a campaign office supporting him was scrawled with Nazi symbols and graffiti saying “Blind Levon” and “Blind Scoundrel”.

Opposition candidates have blamed these attacks on supporters of Sarkisian, while campaigners from his Republican Party retort that it was probably the work of young vandals.

Local human rights activist Artur Sakunts, who is head of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly in the city, said these incidents were “a typical example of the behaviour of [pro-government youth movement] Baze.”

However, the head of the Republican Party’s regional organisation, Samvel Khalatian, said, “The governor has strictly forbidden our youth wing to do anything of this kind.”

The opposition has also claimed that voters are being offered 50 US dollars to give their passport details to Republican Party campaigners on election day.

Khalatian, however, called this allegation slander and said anyone found offering bribes would be expelled from the party.

Naira Bulghadarian is a correspondent for Civil Initiative newspaper and Armenianow Online in Vanadzor

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