Finding Out About Observers of Yerevan Municipal Council Elections: Unknown NGOs Representing the Government’s Interests
According to the lists submitted by NGOs to the Central Electoral Commission, there was again observer abundancy during the Yerevan municipal council elections held on May 14.
Along with the NGOs well-known for their human rights activities and defending electoral law in courts, there were number of NGOs that expressed their desire to observe the elections. Most of them are not known by the public, or there is a limited information about them on the Internet.
After the parliamentary elections, 35 NGOs, with their "army" of 22,000 observers, did not react to the elections in any way.
17 NGOs applied for observing the municipal council elections, including Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (75), Union of Informed Citizens (70), Europe in Law Association (59), Goris Press Club (37) and Civil Society Institute (11). These 5 NGOs had a total number of 252 observers in the polling stations. This accounts for about 5 percent of the total number of observers (5138).
On May 15, these organizations presented their observations on the municipal council elections and its "fake observers”.
Numerous NGOs still hid their observations from public. Their observers were not trying to present the objectives and work of the organization that hired them in front of TV cameras. On the contrary, once noticed by a journalist, they were in a hurry to leave with some hostile remarks.
According to the above-mentioned five NGOs, although some of the “fake" observers came with certificates presenting an organization, the names of those NGOs could not be found on the CEC website. Human rights activists mentioned the names of Hayq, Educational and Cultural Bridges, Institute of Development of Legal Culture and other NGOs.
However, who are those "fake observers?"
Human rights activists and journalists published some videos with "fake observers” and information disclosing only a part of them. Hetq targeted those who had more than a hundred registered observers and tried to find information about them via a simple Internet search.
1. In the observers list published on www.elections.am website, Geghama Youth Territorial Association NGO comes the first. The NGO had submitted a list of 477 (563 for Parliamentary elections) observers for municipal council elections. The NGO was founded in 2004. Usually, below the list posted on elections.am, there is the name of the NGO's president. In this case, it’s not there, but we found out via Internet search that Vahan Davtyan is the founder president of the NGO, who has been the head of the Water Resources Management Agency of the Ministry of Environmental Protection since 2014.
It should be noted that this NGO has been a long-standing partner of the government, having received grants from it. Its members have been involved in various committees. Vahan Davtyan, the president of the NGO, was a member of the committee for the contest of the vacant position of the Director of Armenian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in 2014. In the January of the same year, Davtyan was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer for Lake Sevan Recovery, Conservation and Development Foundation, at the same time continuing his activities as a president of the NGO.
This NGO was observing elections in the past, as well. In 2015, for example, they participated in the observation of the Constitutional Referendum.
2. Hayq Union of Young National Conservatives comes the third in the list, with its 500 observers. The NGO was registered in 2010, Edgar Hovhannisyan being its founder president, who is also a board member of the Republican Party of Armenia. We find this information in his brief biography posted on the party’s page. It is noteworthy that he has been the ideological leader of the youth organization of the Republican Party since 2002. According to his CV, he’s the Deputy Director of the National Archive of Armenia since 2009, and the Dean of the Law and History Faculty of Armenian State Pedagogical University since 2015.
Hayq NGO actively collaborates with various governmental agencies. For instance, in 2013, the NGO organized a series of seminars and training courses against anti-Armenian propaganda and for Syrian-Armenian young people. In 2012, Hayq bought from the state one floor of the building of the National Statistical Service Aragatsotn regional agency, paying 3 million AMD.
Like Geghama Youth Territorial Association, Hayq was also active in election monitoring, but never came up with observations about them. Independent Observer claims that there were unregistered observers from this organization, too, but, according to Aravot newspaper, Hovhannisyan denied that information.
3. The next NGO presenting a big list of observers is the Center for Regional Development Programs and Initiatives with its 500 observers. The president's name was not on the list. The organization got registered in December 2013. We can find this NGO’s name on Armenia Youth Foundation’s website, in the list of those who received grants. They received a grant on March 25, 2017, for the category named "Issues and rights of the Armenians in the Republic of Turkey."
4. Educational and Cultural Bridges NGO also submitted a list of 500 observers. Although only little information can be found out about this NGO registered in 2013, it still allows us to get an idea about its activities. In 2014, the NGO implemented two projects, "Breaking the Stereotypes" and "Human Rights in My Eyes”. These were aimed at creating intercultural links. The projects were financed by the European Union. According to Independent Observers, the NGO had sent election observers registered in the CEC.
5. Caravan-88 was supposed to send 184 observers for the municipal council elections. For Parliamentary elections, the same NGO had 816 registered observers. This is the only NGO that has a website. The website mentions the name of the NGO president, Zoya Joulhakyan. They present themselves as a charitable non-governmental organization, which has regional offices and an impressive list of works carried out in various areas like education, nature protection and human rights. Irtek’s website mentions that this NGO implemented a project of computer training, financed by the government. We called the president of the NGO, who said that less number of observers participated in the Parliamentary elections, her illness being the reason for that. The report was not prepared for the same reason. For these elections, there were going to be 98 observers instead of 184. According to the president, observers do their work only on the voluntary basis: the NGO doesn’t receive any funding from any source for this initiative.
6. Armenian-American Friendship NGO, that enlisted 120 observers, was founded in 2003. According to the Internet, the NGO is engaged in protecting the interests of drivers. One Facebook page mentioned the name of the NGO president, Victoria Kirakosyan. According to that statement, the NGO is providing free legal advice on behalf of Armenian Renaissance, but we cannot claim close ties between the NGO and the party with the same name.
7. The Institute of Legal Culture Development NGO, that ensured 1900 observers during the last elections, enlisted 500 observers for these elections. The NGO didn’t make any statement after the last elections. Hetq talked to Vahan Sargsyan, an observer representing the organization, who said that he knew very well the name of the NGO president, but didn’t want to make the information public. At another polling station, an observer with a badge of the same NGO, openly said that he was representing the Republican Party.
The NGO was registered in 2012. We didn’t succeed in finding any other information apart from the mentioning that their observers were openly supporting the precinct electoral committees’ interests.
8. Vahan NGO had 599 observers for the municipal council elections. President’s name was not mentioned in the CEC website. We couldn’t find any other information about this human rights organization apart from its foundation date, February 26, 2015.
9. Kaylas NGO, represented by 105 observers, was founded in 2012. According to the list, Armen Hakobyan is the president of the NGO. However, there was no information about the NGO or its president on Internet, except for some publications about election observation.
10. For the Sake of Implementation of International Conventions NGO, founded in 2011, had the largest list of observers (1282). According to the list, Norik Sargsyan is the president of the NGO. This organization, too, like most of the NGOs mentioned above, didn’t care enough to inform the public about its existence.
Top photo: Mher Hakobyan (on the right), head of a condominium in Davitashen district of Yerevan, who presented himself as an observer of Center of Economic and Social Right NGO during the Parliamentary elections. He was a proxy of the Republican Party in the same polling station No. 5/19 during the municipal council elections.