Tsarukian Again Absent As Party Campaigns In Southern Armenia

TSARUKIAN AGAIN ABSENT AS PARTY CAMPAIGNS IN SOUTHERN ARMENIA
By Emil Danielyan

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
April 19 2007

The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), one of the presumed favorites to
win the May 12 parliamentary elections, campaigned in the southern
Ararat region on Thursday in the mysterious absence of its leader,
businessman Gagik Tsarukian.

Senior BHK members gave conflicting explanations for Tsarukian’s
failure to attend this and other the pre-election events organized
by the party over the past week.

"He is absent because he is ill and lying in bed," Vartan Bostanjian, a
member of the party’s ruling council, told RFE/RL as he toured the area
along with several other BHK election candidates. "It’s not serious. He
just caught a cold. I also have a cold. Didn’t you notice that?"

"We had events yesterday as well and he wasn’t able to attend them,"
said Bostanjian. "I’m sure he will recuperate in the coming days."

The remarks contradicted what Gohar Yenokian, another senior BHK
figure, told more than 200 hundred supporters in the town of Ararat
moments before. "He is so confident that Ararat will elect him that he
decided to campaign in other places," she said, explaining Tsarukian’s
conspicuous absence from the event.

For his part, the party’s spokesman, Baghdasar Mherian, claimed
that the influential tycoon is too busy to attend all BHK meetings
with voters. "He has a very tight schedule and can not attend all
meetings," Mherian told RFE/RL, denying Yenokian’s claim that Tsarukian
is campaigning elsewhere in Armenia.

Tsarukian kicked off the BHK campaign with a series of rallies held
Yerevan and nearby towns on April 10-11. He left for Moscow for talks
with Russian government officials and lawmakers on April 12 just
hours after mysterious explosions outside two BHK offices in Yerevan.

He visited those offices on his return from Moscow two days later
and has not been seen in public since then.

The blasts were strongly condemned by President Robert Kocharian and
virtually all major Armenian parties. Kocharian, who is believed to
sponsor the party, ordered law-enforcement authorities to quickly
identify and prosecute the attackers. Nobody has been arrested so far.

The BHK campaign in Ararat and other regional towns failed to generate
the kind of enthusiasm among voters that characterized Tsarukian’s
public appearances last week. Its meetings there were held indoors
and were mainly attended by party members.

In his speeches, Bostanjian touted the BHK as "the most accepted
party" in the country and denied any connection between Tsarukian’s
controversial "benevolent actions" and the upcoming elections. "Mr.

Tsarukian has strictly instructed us not to give people material
incentives to vote for us," he said.

Bostanjian, who is a senior professor of economics at Yerevan State
University, also urged local residents not to sell their votes to
other parties. Speaking to RFE/RL separately, he said the BHK’s
main difference from those parties is that "we are not thieves or
mobsters." The jibe appeared to be primarily directed at the governing
Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).

Ernest Soghomonian, another top BHK candidate whose son Victor is
Kocharian’s press secretary, apparently had the HHK in mind when he
told supporters in the town of Vedi, "Once a political force becomes
too big and powerful it gets in trouble." "The BHK has awakened other
parties," added Soghomonian. "They are now far more attentive to the
people. We have created an environment of political competition."

Many of the people who attended the meeting in Ararat work at the
town’s big cement plant owned by Tsarukian. Some praised the tycoon
for breathing a new life into the Soviet-era enterprise which struggled
to remain afloat before being controversially privatized by his Multi
Group five years ago.

"He gives us work, and we can support our families," said Gevorg
Balian, who works there as a senior engineer. "He cares not only
about the plant but local people. How can you not respect him?"

The plant’s director general, Levon Hambartsumian, joined the BHK
visitors in urging local people to vote for the party. "No normal
person can fail to join the party after reading its program,"
he declared. "Armenia will flourish thanks to Gagik Tsarukian and
his party."

Not everyone in the audience was convinced, though. A young woman who
claimed to have been forced to quit the company last year said she
will vote for the party only if Hambartsumian and other top executives
promise to "listen to your workers once in a while and talk to them
in an understandable language."

"People believe in our party," insisted Mkhitar Manukian, who heads
the BHK chapter in the nearby village of Norakert. He claimed that
at least 50 percent of the villagers will vote for Tsarukian’s party.

But there was little anecdotal evidence of massive popular support
for the party which claims to be by the largest in Armenia. "I’m
still undecided," said one man in Vedi.

"I don’t know who Tsarukian is," grumbled another, older local
resident. "So many politicians have come here and given false
promises. Everything is false."

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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