YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Samvel Babayan, a retired army general close to former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian’s ORO opposition bloc, on Wednesday accused a controversial deputy chief of the Armenian police of orchestrating violent attacks on its supporters.
The violence followed a weekend election campaign rally held by ORO in Jrarat, a village 20 kilometers southwest of Yerevan. A police officer living there fired gunshots while clashing with several ORO sympathizers shortly after the rally.
On Tuesday, one local opposition backer was wounded in the leg and two others beaten up by a large group of men said to be close to the village mayor related to the police General Levon Yeranosian. One of those men was arrested later in the day amid ORO allegations that the Armenian authorities are spreading an “atmosphere of fear” ahead of the April 2 parliamentary elections.
Babayan claimed that Yeranosian personally led the “bandit gang” that assaulted the three Jrarat residents. “He must be immediately fired and this criminal case must be fully solved, if our laws are valid,” Babayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“If they are not in force and if every faction can do whatever it wants, then we … must say: ‘Dear people, take up arms and shoot back at those who shoot you,” warned the former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh’s army.
Yeranosian, who commands Armenian interior troops, is notorious for violent conduct. The policeman who fired gunshots in Jrarat on Sunday is his brother Lernik.
Babayan charged that Yeranosian and his relatives acted on government orders in the village. He said the authorities are thus trying to bully Armenians and make sure that they vote for the ruling Republican Party (HHK) in the elections.
Armen Ashotian, a deputy chairman of the HHK, dismissed such allegations on Tuesday. Ashotian accused ORO of exploiting the tensions in Jrarat to boost its electoral chances.
Babayan, who is critical of Armenia’s current leadership, led the Karabakh Armenian army from 1993-1999. Ohanian was the chief of the army staff during most of his tenure.
The once powerful Karabakh general claimed that he supports ORO but is not involved in its election campaign. Earlier, Babayan did not deny media reports that he played a major role in the selection of the bloc’s election candidates.