Local Landscape: Prosecutor’s brother moves to become Yerevan District Chief

Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian has moved to retain his de facto control of Yerevan’s western Ajapnyak district by having his younger brother stand in the local mayoral election slated for October 29.

Ruben Hovsepian’s participation and likely victory in the poll should also avert a new clash between two mutually antagonistic clans that hold sway in the area.

Artsrun Khachatrian, Ajapnyak’s incumbent mayor who has governed the district for the last six years, represents one of those clans. Khachatrian is a prominent member of a broader faction led by the influential prosecutor. It mainly consists of prominent natives of the Aparan district in central Armenia.

The rival camp is headed by senior lawmaker Galust Sahakian and his brother-in-law Ashot Aghababian. Both men are senior members of the governing Republican Party (HHK) and longtime associates of its official leader, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. Sahakian’s son Arman was narrowly defeated by Khachatrian in 2003 and planned to again try to unseat the latter in the upcoming election. The previous local polls were marred by violence and accusations of vote rigging, and many observers expected more trouble this time around.

However, Arman Sahakian was effectively forced to pull out of the race after the HHK’s governing board refused to back his candidacy in August at the apparent behest of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. The unexpected move fueled speculation about a deal cut by Sarkisian and Hovsepian.

Samvel Yeranian, chairman of the Ajapnyak election commission, told RFE/RL that Khachatrian is not among four men who have applied for registration as election candidates before Wednesday’s deadline. It turned out that all of them, including Hovsepian’s brother, are members of the prosecutor’s Nig-Aparan organization. One of the hopefuls, Gagik Sargsian, is at the same time affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the HHK’s junior coalition partner that has an uneasy rapport with Hovsepian.

In a newspaper interview published on Wednesday, Khachatrian claimed that he was not pressurized into quitting the race. “I made that decision [not to contest the vote] for the sake of the people of Ajapnyak because I don’t want the community to turn into a battlefield,” he told the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily.

The Sahakians, for their part, have said they draw comfort from the fact that Khachatrian will no longer run the area increasingly seen as Hovsepian’s stronghold. Ajapnyak is home to several businesses that are reportedly owned by the prosecutor.

Hovsepian underscored his far-reaching political ambitions last month as he presided over the founding conference of a coalition of so-called “compatriots’ unions” that unite prominent natives of various regions of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Nig-Aparan is expected to play a leading role in the grouping.

Nig-Aparan is also the driving force behind a recently formed political party which intends to make a strong showing in next year’s parliamentary elections. Leaders of the party, called Association for Armenia, have not ruled out the possibility of forming an electoral alliance with the HHK.