Armenian comedian Narek Margaryan, in the role of Batman, stands watch outside a Yerevan polling station to prevent vote-tampering during Armenia's April 2 parliamentary election.
Batman on April 2 set aside the cares of Gotham City and descended on Yerevan to help guard democracy amidst a parliamentary election that could prove a turning point for Armenia. With his cape flying behind him, the Dark Knight sashayed about the Armenian capital of one-plus million, keeping an eye out for any would-be Jokers.
Sighted standing guard outside polling stations and engaging with voters, the superhero quickly overshadowed more mundane international election watchdogs such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
But this was no ordinary election -- it marked an historic switchover to a new, parliamentary system of governance – and, as such, it called for extraordinary observers. So, Batman made his way into an unspecified number of Yerevan polling stations to “deter fraud,” dismissing objections from startled election officials. He was also seen making phone calls and taking photos with tourists from India and Dubai.
The Armenian Batman eventually revealed himself as comedian Narek Margaryan of ArmComedy, a satirical show that makes its job “to restore sanity and embarrass bad governance in Armenia.” Margaryan’s co-host and a potential Robin, Sergey Sargsyan, is positive that Batman’s mission was a success. “We believe that he did scare the hell out of some evil-minded provocateurs,” Sargsyan told Tamada Tales.
The storyline might almost fit one of the Armenian epic poems in which Sedrakian is a self-described expert. Hayrikian, a Soviet-era dissident, was shot and wounded on a Yerevan street on January 31, a few weeks before the February 18 presidential election. After considerable vacillation by Hayrikian, the election was not delayed, but speculation over the shooting simmered on.
Sedrakian, who, like Hayrikian, was never considered a prime contender for presidential office, was arrested in March for allegedly arranging the shooting. He maintains his innocence and, according to his lawyer, plans to appeal the ruling against him to the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights, a body which many South Caucasus residents tend to look on as a sort of US-style Supreme Court.
He charges that prosecutors never identified his motive and that the two men who allegedly attacked Hayrikian later withdrew their confessions, RFE/RL reported.
The duo, Khachatur Poghosian, the alleged gunman, and Samvel Harutiunian, received 14 and 12-year prison sentences, respectively.
Sedrakian, an occultist who predicted his own arrest, earlier had conceded that both men had worked for him as house painters. Reasons for his admitting such a detail if he had commissioned them to kill Hayrikian have not been made clear. He initially lay blame for the shooting on the Freemasons.
Although many voters and observers contend that the vote, like Armenia's February presidential election, was not crystal-clean, no commentators seem to believe it was an outright opposition victory. The official results left President Serzh Sargsyan's Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) with a robust 55.89 percent of the vote. Billionaire Gagik Tsarukian's Prosperous Armenia Party, a longtime political fence-sitter, tagged behind in second place with just over 23 percent.
Hovhannisian's Heritage Party reportedly plans to demand a recount, but details were not immediately available.
What’s the cost of fighting for Armenia’s independence? Based on a payment to injured former presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikian for his “contribution to [Armenia’s] independence,” the Armenian government appears to have calculated it at precisely 20.5-million drams, or just under $50,000.
The gift, drawn from a reserve fund, allegedly is meant to pay for Hayrikian, a Soviet-era independence activist, to receive medical treatment in the Dutch city of Rotterdam for a gunshot wound to the shoulder he received during this year’s presidential campaign.
Purported health reasons aside, the lavish gesture has sparked widespread anger. The recognition of Hayrikian’s “contribution” amounts to more than 15 times the size of Armenia’s average annual salary of 134,400 drams, or about $3,200.
Although Health Minister Derenik Dumanian has called the measure “expedient” to “fully restore [Hayrikian’s] health,” some Armenians wonder whether the payment instead has more to do with Hayrikian’s ultimate decision not to request a delay in the February 18 presidential election. The government, mindful of the controversy over the 2008 presidential election, was eager for this vote to go off on schedule, without a hitch.
Pro-government politicians have sidestepped such accusations, but, so far, the government not released any independent, expert opinion that confirms the medical need to pay Hayrikian $49,006 at taxpayers’ expense.
Representatives of Yerevan’s prominent Grigor Lusavorich Hospital, where Hayrikian was treated following the January 31 attack , declined to specify to EurasiaNet.org what treatment he required in the Netherlands that could not be provided in Armenia.
Armenians on April 9 can choose which of two presidential inaugurations they wish to attend; a choice which could take the divided country to the next stage of the protracted power struggle between Serzh Sargsyan, the official president-elect, and Raffi Hovhannisian, the feel-good opposition leader who says he just wants an oath for "a new Armenia."
Sargsyan and Hovhannisian have tried to keep their joust peaceful, but, given Armenia's history of post-election violence, tension is in the air. Sargsyan’s inauguration will take place in the National Assembly with foreign dignitaries, officials and clergymen in attendance. Hovhannisian, in the meantime, has invited the discontented to gather at Yerevan’s central Liberty Square for “a little bit of song and dance” -- a frequent occurrence at Armenian opposition rallies -- followed by a formal declaration of the "people’s" (ergo, Hovhannisian’s) victory, and a march .
The legitimacy of either event is in the eyes of the beholder. Many in Armenia, worn out by a sour economy and political strife, have had enough of Sargsyan for the past five years and say they saw enough election fraud during the February presidential vote to accuse him of pocketing another term. But many others contend that Hovhannisian is just a sore loser.
The two ceremonies, therefore, most likely will largely be an exercise in outnumbering and outshouting each other.
Armenia’s post-election standoff has moved into the direction of an epistolary novel as President Serzh Sargsyan and his challenger, Raffi Hovhannisian, work their way to a truce through correspondence that is cc'd to the rest of the nation.
In his latest letter, President Sargsyan kindly asked his hunger-striking rival to have a bite of something, cut the dramatics and sit down to talk. “Please stop the hunger strike, take a day or two to recover and then we will do some serious work, without the theatrics,” the president wrote to Hovhannisian, who claims that Sargsyan stole the presidency from him in Armenia's February 18 election.
Both sides, though, combine the careful courtesy with pointed barbs. Sargsyan, for instance, agreed to entertain Hovhannisian’s ideas for crisis resolution -- “half-baked” and “anti-constitutional” though they may be.
The ideas, laid out in an earlier missive from Hovhannisian, center on a request to hold a repeat presidential election or a parliamentary election preceded by an overhaul of the electoral system. And the prerogative to appoint some key officials such as the general prosecutor and the foreign minister, among others.
Hovhannisian, in turn, has agreed to consider Sargsyan's proposal to meet, thanked his political pen pal for his concern about his health, but assured him that there is no reason to be worried.
The court will not publish its full decision until March 18.
With Serzh Sargsyan already congratulated by foreign governments and making official visits as Armenia's president-elect, outsiders might get the impression that the train has already left the station, and Hovhannisian missed it.
How a hunger strike will change things is unclear.
Hovhannisian has tried the hunger-strike route before, stoically sitting in Liberty Square for 15 days in 2011 "to bring power back to the people." The measure brought no tangible result other than to make the full-figured politician much slimmer.
As the pro-opposition A1Plus.am news site laconically commented in a blooper, "Note that R. Hovhannisyan is on hunger-strike already 4 years."
This time round, he seems content to sit under a canopy on a bench in Liberty Square, with a scarf in the colors of the Armenian flag around his neck, and books and paintings on red-blue-orange blankets spread out alongside him.
The American-born politician is expected to comment on the Court's
Italian novelist Umberto Eco would have no trouble transforming the turmoil over Armenia's February 18 presidential election into a fantasy thriller complete with secret societies, mystical forces and evil home repairmen.
In a fresh subplot in the ongoing Armenia-elects-a-president drama, one presidential candidate has now been accused of plotting to assassinate another. Meanwhile, a more ordinary stand-off between the two main characters -- the official winner and the runner-up -- continues apace over whether or not the election results were rigged.
On March 5, Vardan Sedrakian, a mythologist, occultist and failed presidential hopeful, was arrested and charged with conspiring to kill candidate Paruyr Hayrikian, who survived a shooting attack two weeks before the election.
Finding the basis for this claim could prove an uphill struggle. But there is one connection to masonry: two of the alleged attackers on Hayrikian reportedly remodeled mythologist Sedrakian’s summer house.
Armenian presidential candidate Raffi Hovhannisian, who argues that a rigged February 18 presidential election deprived "the people" of "victory" against incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan, has said that he will demand today that the country's Constitutional Court throw out the official election results.
The Court has said that it will consider the appeal in ten days, Aysor.am reported. The March 4 move will open a legal front in Hovhannisian’s battle for the presidency, which, so far, has mostly unfolded in the form of street protests and campaigning. The US-born leader of the tiny opposition Heritage Party ambitiously has described his fight as the “Hello Revolution,” or "Barevolution."
But the chances remain slim that Hovhannisian, a onetime foreign minister, will get a favorable court decision or a critical mass of popular support for greeting his arrival in the presidential residence. His rival Sargsyan has already been welcomed back into the presidents’ club by world leaders such as US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sargsyan also commands influence with Armenia’s state institutions and the Constitutional Court is no exception, local commentators say.
Armenia’s handling of the voting process scarcely passed muster with international observers, who noted “implausibly high” support for the incumbent in several precincts, but the election monitors did not say that the irregularities warranted reconsidering the outcome of the national vote. Local observers have dismissed such findings as wide of the mark.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan says he won a second term -- his rival (Sargsyan told RFE/RL he prefers the word "competitor") says, no, he did not. And with that, Armenia's stage is once again set for a potentially protracted political fray.
The rest of Armenia doesn’t seem to care about the presidential office too much. Eighty percent of 1,080 Armenians questioned for a recent survey by local pollster Sociometer don’t want to be presidents of their country.
The only other Armenian who wants to be president and put up a real fight for it is Raffi Hovannisian, the Fresno, California-born leader of the tiny opposition Heritage Party. Hovannisian claims that Sargsyan stole the victory from him through widespread funny business, ranging from bribery to ballot-box stuffing.