- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 February 7, 2003 

Decision 2003: Guns, knives, fighting in Artashat. Politics as usual?

Gunshots were fired, a brawl disrupted a political rally, and a Member of Parliament was seriously wounded from knife stabs Tuesday as Armenia's Presidential election campaign completed its second week.

Hayk Babukhanyan, 39, deputy head of the Union of Constitutional Right, is recovering from life-threatening chest wounds. The incident took place in the town of Artashat during a campaign stop in support of candidate Aram Karapetyan, UCR's nominee for President.

Hryar Khachatryan, head of Karapetyan's regional staff, said his office had been warned of potential violence should they proceed with plans to hold a rally in the town, a stronghold of President Robert Kocharyan.

The President issued a statement condemning the attack and ordered an investigation and punishment for the perpetrators.

Parliament Member Babukhanyan  was stabbed at a campaign rally.A crowd had gathered prior to the candidate's arrival in Artashat and "didn't let us place loud-speakers and other equipments that we had sent," said Khachatryan. "We stood on the stage with Babukhanyan and tried to start talking using loud-speakers but 40-50 people, they were drunk or something else, started to agitate, curse and whistle then they attacked us."

Other eyewitnesses say some in the crowd were armed with sticks and metal poles.

According to the head of the regional staff, at the moment of attack Babukhanyan shot his handgun in the air. The deputy and those accompanying him were thrown on the ground and beaten.

"Every part of my body was pounced on by 10 to 15 people and they were beating me," said Babukhanyan's bodyguard and driver Vahan Ghazaryan. "I took a knife from them but they threw me on the ground and were kicking. The same they did with Mr. Babukhanyan."

Karapetyan's staff called the brawl "state terrorism" and lay the blame on Kocharyan supporters.

Hrant Khachatryan, head of UCR, told reporters the disruption and fight was organized by supporters of Kocharyan intimate Hovik Abrahamyan, Minister of Regional Administration. Khachatryan added that he was born in Artashat, knows everyone in the town and gave names of those with criminal pasts who participated in the incident. No arrests have been made.

Karapetyan staff members said they had notified appropriate authorities of the rally five days in advance and asked them to provide security, as two other times during the short campaign meetings had been disrupted.

Staff members and other eyewitnesses say that several police were on hand but did not interfere in the brawl. A statement from Karapetyan's campaign accused law enforcement of "complete negligence".

The day after the brawl the Armenian Police released a statement that implied that Babukhanyan was to blame for the attack for firing shots into the air in an attempt to quiet the crowd.

Presidential candidate Vazgen Manukyan (National Democratic Union) told reporters he was also warned against conducting a rally in Artashat by sources claiming that they were under orders to disrupt any such meeting.

Manukyan said that as his team reached Artashat they were met by a drunken crowd "screaming that nobody except Kocharyan can go there".

Manukyan (former Prime Minister and former Minister of Defense) said the people in Artashat told him they were"servants", adding that they "won't be able to free themselves if Kocharyan remains President for the following five years."

The episode lasted several hours according to Manukyan, who said his staff had given local authorities advance notice of their plans and had also notified the President's campaign staff.

"I accuse the authorities, they were organizers," says Manukyan. "No regional official would dare to do a thing like that if he or she hadn't had permission."

Before the incidents in Artashat the most extraordinary case of alleged wrongdoing was in the Armavir region (Echmiatsin) where it was charged that village head Arakel Movsisyan (an associate of the Ministry of Defense) warned people to not go outside during a Stepan Demirchyan rally.

During a meeting with journalists concerning the allegation, Movsisyan said he is a Kocharyan supporter and that no other candidate would pass "on his territory".


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Decision 2003: Guns, knives, fighting in Artashat. Politics as usual?

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  Photos of the week
  Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Ups and Downs of Campaign 2003

In the second week of campaigning, crowds turned out to cheer President Robert Kocharyan. And a crowd turned riotous at a rally for Aram Karapetyan, leaving MP Hayk Babukhanyan recovering from a stabbing.



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