On May 12, the Parliamentary elections in Constituency 31 (Vanadzor, Alaverdi) featured a parade of “brotherhood”.
This was especially true since Artur Nalbandyan, the mayor of Alaverdi, was appointed secretary of the Alaverdi local office of the Hanrapetakan (Republican) party and Karen Saribekyan was a majoritarian candidate for Parliament on behalf of the same party. Since March, Artur Nalbandyan had been telling people who visited his office that they were going to make their “brother”, Karen Saribekyan, a Member of Parliament.
It had become clear to me what trials awaited me during my campaign as an opposition candidate in these conditions of collaboration between the criminal world and politicians.
The close relationship between the authorities and organized crime in the Lori Marz has already reaped its bitter fruit. The introduction of the criminal element into ruling bodies in Lori first began with the former provincial governor Henrik Kochinyan. But one has to be very naïve to believe that, for example, the decision to make Artur Nalbandyan, notorious for a few serious crimes in Alaverdi, mayor in 2005 was solely in accordance with Kochinyan's desire.
The residents of Alaverdi knew even then that the “green light” for Artur Nalbandyan's appointment came through the intercession of Gagik Tsarukyan, at the initiative of the director of the Tumanyan Electric Works Karen Saribekyan, who managed to circumvent Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan and his Hanrapetakan candidate. Henrik Kochinyan, well-versed in the sphere of electoral fraud, fulfilled this duty with great enthusiasm. Local self-government was handed over to the brotherhood as a result of which – and under the high patronage of Kochinyan – the community budget, which had been plundered for years on end and was now 45 million drams in debt, ended up right in the “lion's den”. In those days, Karen Saribekyan appointed another representative of the brotherhood, Ashot Shakaryan (nicknamed Fshik), director of the Tumanyan Electric Works.
Mayor Artur Nalbandyan first used 8 million drams of community funds to renovate his new office, spent 5 million drams to buy a new car for City Hall, allocated 1.5 million drams for motor fuel, 1.7 million drams for City Hall catering and 400,000 drams on mobile phone conversations.
But any criticism is seen by the brotherhood in a totally different light. They consider it “going over their heads.” They never give explanations or clarifications – the brotherhood has their own rules for answering questions.
Threats from the brotherhood
These were the conditions in which campaigning began in Alaverdi for the parliamentary elections. The first major difficulty occurred during campaigning in the village of Gugark on May 1, at around 8 pm. Vahe Mikichyan, head of the Vahagni district department of the Electric Network's Debed center and Vanik Mikichyan, a police officer in the Vanadzor police department, blocked our way on the main street of the village with a car and demanded that we stop campaigning and leave the village. I figured that I had once again to deal with Karen Saribekyan's merciless electricians (I had already come across many of these electricians during my meetings with community members). I stepped out of the car and introduced myself. As soon as he heard my last name, the electric Vahe Mikichyan said, “You're not treating the brotherhood well. We've heard your speeches and we don't like them.”
The police officer invited us to coffee in an attempt to interrupt our campaigning. When I politely refused, he pulled me by the arm and tried to force me into the car. I managed to escape, jumped into my car and asked the driver to drive out of the village quickly. They followed our car until the local building of the National Security Service in Vanadzor. They told me there that I had to go to the police. There were young girls with me so I was forced to go to the Vanadzor police in order to get to Alaverdi safely. I learned one week after the elections that Karen Saribekyan's electrician had been fined 200,000 drams for interfering with my campaign.
The second incident occurred a few days after the first, on the way to Vanadzor. When our car emerged from the first tunnel in Dzoraget, three foreign-made cars appeared and one of them, a jeep, drove staright at us. Our driver just barely manage to avert a crash. We were too shocked to note the make of the car or its license plate. We could not figure out whether it was a coincidence or had been planned.
The third surprise occurred after the elections. When we learned that the total number of electoral irregularities that had been registered for proportional and majoritarian candidates was around 6,600 in Constituency 31, we went to the Lri Marz Prosecutor, demanding that the culprits be identified and punished. On May 26, the president of the local electoral committee Vram Vanyan and I were invited to the Lori Prosecutor's office, where judge A. Ghazaryan, after a short discussion said – and this surprises me greatly now – that there had to be a recount and he asked me to append a request for a recount to the application I had submitted earlier. We made arrangements with Deputy Prosecutor Arakelyan and I agreed to submit it by May 28. On the night of May 27, at around 3 am, the door of my apartment went up in flames.
At this point, I cannot avoid mentioning a very important point – immediately after the elections, rumors started doing the rounds of Alaverdi that another election was expected in Constituency 31, because Karen Saribekyan was set to be appointed Deputy Minister of Energy, and Vahram Baghdasaryan was to be made a parliamentarian at all costs, after his defeat at the hands of Viktor Dallakyan in Constituency 30. Along with this, news of the warm friendship between Prosecutor General of Armenia Aghvan Hovsepyan and Vahram Baghdasaryan was also circulating as well as of the Prosecutor General's special interest in having another round of elections organized in Constituency 31. If this information was true, it is likely that Karen Saribekyan had found out about the Lori prosecutor's intention to have a recount and the brotherhood – who had not liked my attitude towards them earlier, according to Vahe Mikichyan – had decided to settle accounts with me. It must also be said that in the atmosphere of outrage that prevailed after the arson at my apartment the program of making Vahram Baghdasaryan a parliamentarian from Constituency 31 became impossible. My application for the investigation of irregularities, with its appendix demanding a recount, were sent to the investigation department of the Lori police station, only to be rejected there.
Karen Saribekyan's Diplomas
Who is Karen Saribekyan? Throughout the entire election campaign, he did not say a single word on television to the voters, but instead had all the authorities in the province working for him and all the resources of the electricians. The latter succeeded in reducing his opponents' work to torture. A group of zombified teachers and school principals, charmed by their candidate, propagandized the “father of the brotherhood” in television clips and urged naïve Lori voters to cast their ballots in his favor. They presented him as a hard-working, educated, patriotic and philanthropic figure, which is viewed with some suspicion even today by many of his compatriots. This is also proven by a comparison of the campaign booklets of Karen Saribekyan, both as candidate in the 2003 parliamentary elections from Constituency 61, and in 2007 from Constituency 31. The 2003 booklet suggested that 1989 had been a very prolific year for Karen Saribekyan. According to a campaign poster in Armenian, Saribekyan graduated from the Faculty of Textiles and Light Industry at the Leninakan Polytechnic Institute in 1989, specializing in sewing technology. A booklet in Russian from the same campaign said that he had graduated in 1989 from the StateUniversityin the Russian city of Nalchik, specializing as an economist. Also in 1989, Saribekyan took part in fighting to defend Karabakh and the regions of Armenia. It turned that Saribekyan had also studied (though the year is not mentioned) at the Vanadzor Sanahin Management Institute, in the Faculty of Production Economics and Management. Strangely, of all these diplomas, the only one mentioned in the 2007 booklet was the one from a Light Industry technical school, and there was a slight mention of his having an educational background in economics. This is probably not important because one does not need diplomas to be a Member of Parliament. Rather, it is important to love your homeland like a man, to respect a woman in a way befitting an Armenian man, even if she is an “unworthy” rival and opponent. Meanwhile, let us wait and see what further evil the brotherhood has in store for my country and for myself as well.
Former Candidate from Constituency 31