Insult added to injury: Opposition candidate sees campaigners attacked, is refused chance to TV debate

Insult added to injury: Opposition candidate sees campaigners attacked, is refused chance to TV debate

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Passions have been flying high around Armenian elections contested in some single-member constituencies, with opposition candidate Nikol Pashinyan and two pro-government tycoons fueling the controversy during the past several days.

Sunday saw a violent attack against several members of the Armenian National Congress (ANC) distributing leaflets as part of their campaign for Pashinyan in Yerevan’s Malatia-Sebastia community, which is the core of the electoral district in which the Haykakan Zhamanak newspaper editor is running for parliament against the local affluent businessman, Samvel Alexanyan. Pashinyan himself had an argument with a number of women who confronted him in the community and forced him to discontinue his campaigning activities after an acrimonious verbal exchange.

Another scandal ensued when Ruben Hayrapetyan, the chief of the Football Federation and member of the ruling Republican Party and a close friend of Alexanyan, dismissed Pashinyan’s challenge to a debate.

Hayrapetyan, who is seeking reelection to the National Assembly in another electoral district in Yerevan, had publicly invited anyone from the top ten on the ANC list of candidates, besides number three (Aram Sargsyan, the brother of slain prime minister Vazgen Sargsyan, who, Hayrapetyan said, was his friend) to a debate, as he refused to have a debate with his immediate opposition rival in the constituency Gayane Arustamyan (reasoning that she is a woman and therefore could “scratch” him). It turned out later that he also refused to have a debate with Pashinyan, who is number seven on the ANC’s list of candidates and who immediately accepted the debate challenge and offered to have a debate in front of a TV audience.

At the appointed time Pashinyan arrived at the ArmNews TV company to take part in the debate, but he was not allowed to enter the building. At that time ArmNews Director Artak Alexanyan was having an interview with Hayrapetyan, who said that for him having a debate with Pashinyan would be “an insult”.

“How can I have a debate with a person whom I do not respect? Nor will I respect my friend, if he agrees to have a debate with him,” said Hayrapetyan, stressing that he was ready to debate only with ANC leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan. He promised not to give “provocative questions” to the opposition leader during such a debate.

Pashinyan, for his part, said that Hayrapetyan was simply afraid to debate issues with him.

“Ruben Hayrapetyan and RPA representatives simply are running away from a debate in a shameful way. His word ceases to have any value, because he has refused to have a debate on the terms he had offered himself,” Pashinyan told media on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Armenian Police released a statement later on Monday regarding the incident of violence in Malatia-Sebastia in which one of Pashinyan’s campaigners had his nose broken and two others reported having been roughed up by a group of unknown assailants. The police said that a 41-year-old citizen, identified as Vardan V., came to the police department on April 16 and reported having an argument with a group of oppositionists canvassing for Pashinyan in Malatia-Sebastia. “He said that during the argument he pushed Babken Garoyan and Gayane Arustamyan as a result of which they hit the wall and may have been injured. Vardan V. added that he had not hit anyone,” the police report said.

A criminal case has been instituted in connection with the incident on the pretext of “intentional slight damage to health”. Such a crime is punishable with a fine in the amount of between 50 and 150 minimum wages. Police say the investigation into the case is continuing.