YEREVAN — The governor of Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province where President Serzh Sarkisian was defeated by his main opposition challenger, Raffi Hovannisian, stepped down on Friday.
According to official results of Monday’s presidential election, Shirak was the only Armenian region where Sarkisian failed to win a majority of votes. In particular, he suffered an unexpectedly crushing defeat in Gyumri, the regional capital and the country’s second largest city. Hovannisian won almost 70 percent of the vote there.
Ashot Gizirian, a former senior police official who has governed Shirak since 2010, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that he tendered resignation on his own. He declined to specify if the move was connected with the election result in the province bordering Turkey and Georgia. He promised to elaborate on it on Monday.
But in separate remarks to the online version of the “168 Zham” newspaper, Gizirian acknowledged such a connection. “I conceded my defeat and tendered resignation. Let Raffi now concede his defeat [in the overall election,]” he said.
Provincial governors in Armenia are appointed by the central government.
Sarkisian’s reelection campaign in Shirak was managed by Sahak Minasian, head of the education department in the provincial administration. Minasian sought to put a brave face on Sarkisian’s performance there, saying that the incumbent president prevailed in most rural communities and trailed Hovannisian in the provincial vote tally only because of Gyumri.
The nationwide vote results also showed Hovannisian defeating the incumbent in several other major urban centers across Armenia, notably Vanadzor, the country’s third largest city. Samvel Darpinian, Vanadzor’s pro-Sarkisian mayor, reportedly rebuked local voters for the president’s defeat on Thursday, saying that they are “unconscious.”
The remarks were denounced by opposition activists in Vanadzor as well as some media outlets in Yerevan.
Darpinian responded to the outcry on Friday, accusing the media of distorting his remarks. At the same time he admitted that he “may have used an incorrect word.” “Perhaps we are to blame for not managing to convey all the work that has been done [by the government] in the last five years to the consciousness of every Vanadzor resident during the election campaign,” he said in a written statement.