Shot Armenia Presidential Hopeful Seeks Vote Delay


1 Feb 2013
By By AVET DEMOURIAN, Associated Press – 3 hours ago

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) – The shooting of a presidential candidate
threw Armenia’s election into disarray Friday, with the wounded victim
saying he will call for a delay of the vote.

Paruir Airikian, 63, was shot and wounded by an unidentified assailant
outside his home in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, on Thursday just
before midnight. Airikian said from the hospital after surgery Friday
that he would initiate proceedings as allowed by the constitution to
delay the vote for 15 days due to his condition, but not longer.

He is one of eight candidates in the Feb. 18 race in this landlocked
former Soviet republic and wasn’t expected to get more than 1 percent
of the vote. But postponing the election could help opponents of
President Serge Sarkisian, who was expected to easily win a second
five-year term.

Sarkisian said after visiting Airikian in the hospital that the
perpetrators of the attack “obviously had an intention to influence
the normal election process.”

Armenia – a landlocked nation of 3 million people bordering Azerbaijan,
Georgia, Iran and Turkey in the volatile Caucasus – has been known for
its turbulent and often violent politics. A 1999 attack on Parliament
by six gunmen killed the prime minister, the speaker and six other
officials and lawmakers.

In 2006, a deputy chief of tax police was blown up in his car. Police
found the man who placed explosives in the vehicle, but failed to
determine who ordered the killing.

In March 2008, clashes between police and supporters of former
President Levon Ter-Petrosian, who lost to Sarkisian in a vote the
previous month, left 10 people dead and more than 250 injured. Later
that year, a deputy police chief was shot and killed in the elevator
of his apartment building, a slaying that remains unsolved.

Sarkisian, a conservative, has stolen the opposition’s thunder by
talking with critics and allowing opposition protests. In 2009, the
Parliament granted a sweeping amnesty to hundreds of people detained
for taking part in the post-election violence.

Sarkisian also has overseen a return to economic growth after years
of stagnation and has managed to reduce the country’s endemic poverty.

Recent opinion surveys show him getting the support of up to 70
percent of the population.

“Sarkisian has a clear advantage … and he doesn’t need
destabilization,” said Stepan Grigorian, an independent political

He said Sarkisian is poised to win the vote anyway, but if he performs
worse than initially expected, that could give more leverage to fringe
groups. “That could make the president more dependent on such marginal
groups,” Grigorian said.

Sarkisian’s closest rival is Raffi Hovanessian, a former foreign
minister who has campaigned on populist promises to sharply increase
state salaries and pensions.

Hovanessian also has pledged to recognize the independence
of Nagorno-Karabakh, a stance favored by nationalists. The
Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and some adjacent territory have
been under the control of Armenian troops and local ethnic Armenian
forces since a six-year war ended with a truce in 1994.

Armenia has faced severe economic challenges caused by the closing
of its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey because of the conflict and
international efforts to mediate a settlement have produced no result.

Sarkisian, like his predecessors, has stopped short of recognizing
the territory as independent.

At the same time, he has taken a tough stance on other foreign
policy issues, pushing strongly for international recognition that
the killings of some 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915
constituted genocide. Turkey has furiously opposed that.

Armenian Parliament Speaker Ovik Abramian, who visited the wounded
candidate in the hospital, said Friday that the attack was a “blow
to the Armenian statehood” and that the election could now be delayed.

The nation’s election chief, however, has not commented on the

Armenia’s constitution requires the vote to be postponed for
two weeks if one of the candidates is unable to take part due to
circumstances beyond his control. A further 40-day delay beyond that
is also possible.

“I have no intention to seek a 40-day delay as I realize that we are
in a process that needs to be finalized,” Airikian said in televised
remarks from the hospital. “But I will have to choose the option of
postponing the vote by 15 days.”

Yerevan Clinical Hospital’s chief doctor, Ara Minasian, said Airikian
was being treated for a single gunshot wound and remained in stable
condition. Doctors successfully operated to remove a bullet in his

Airikian, an also-ran in three previous Armenian presidential
elections, was a dissident during Soviet times. He was first arrested
by the KGB when he was 20, and spent 17 years in prison, according
to his party.

In 1987, after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev launched his liberal
reforms, Airikian created the National Self-Determination Party. When
the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted the next year,
he accused the Soviet authorities of stirring up violence and was
evicted from the country.

Airikian soon returned to his homeland and in the 1990s had senior
positions in Armenia’s parliament and government.

On Friday, Airikian blamed ex-Soviet KGB agents of launching the

“I would sincerely say that I see the style of special services of
a foreign state, which haunted me for so long, not Russia, but its
predecessor,” Airikian said. He added that they could have been
worried by his push for Armenia’s closer integration into Europe.

Armenia has an economic and security pact with Russia and also hosts
a Russian military base.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the
shooting of Airikian, adding that Washington expects the Armenian
government to ensure a fair vote in line with the law.

“If he’s unable to campaign, we obviously call on Armenians to settle
this constitutionally in a way that assures that these elections go
forward in a way that is free and fair and protects the rights of
all candidates,” she said.

Bradley Klapper contributed to this report from Washington.

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