War trauma and voter apathy haunts Armenia ahead of elections
Like many Armenians three years ago, Artyom Muradyan hoped the reformist prime minister would turn the situation around the country after decades of poverty and corruption.
Instead, he says, Nikol Pashinyan led the small South Caucasian nation into a disastrous war and ceded swathes of territory to Azerbaijan last year.
On Sunday, the 24-year-old former soldier – who fought in the six-week conflict with his older brother and father – will vote for an electoral bloc led by Pashinyan’s main rival.
“He made so many promises to us,” Muradyan told AFP at his home in the northern capital Yerevan. “He couldn’t keep those promises and he gave our land.”
More than 6,000 people have been killed in the war on Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Armenia’s humiliating defeat sparked protests and calls for Pashinyan’s resignation.
The former editor-in-chief of the newspaper, 46, instead called early parliamentary elections in the hope of defusing the crisis and renewing his mandate.
But many Armenians say they no longer trust him and fear that he will cling to power.
– ‘Idiot’ –
Muradyan’s father, Marat, rants when he talks about Pashinyan, who has been hailed as a hero after leading a wave of peaceful protests against the old elites in 2018.
“He’s an idiot,” said the 51-year-old trucker, taking a puff of his cigarette. He questioned Pashinyan’s economic record and mocked his “hysterical” campaign in which he wielded a hammer at rallies.
“It is a hammer that belongs to the people, and on June 20 it will fall on your empty heads,” Pahshinyan said at one of the rallies, addressing opponents.
The Muradyans support the electoral bloc of Pashinyan’s main rival, ex-President Robert Kocharyan, who ruled the country between 1998 and 2008 and counts Russian Vladimir Putin among his friends.
Polls show that Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party is neck and neck with Kocharian’s electoral bloc, known simply as Armenia.
Unlike Muradyan and his family, many in Armenia remain undecided in the close race, and some say they will stay at home on Sunday.
Aram Petrosyan says he doesn’t think the elections will change anything.
“I will not vote. I do not want to be lied to any more,” the 62-year-old chess professor told AFP on the sidelines of a tribute to fallen soldiers at the Yerevan National Library.
Her 22-year-old son and 35-year-old son-in-law both fought in the Karabakh War. The son-in-law, father of two grandchildren for Petrosyan, was killed in October and the family did not find his body until January.
Some grieving parents have told AFP they are not interested in politics and do not want to discuss the upcoming elections.
Artyom Muradyan, who served in an artillery unit, said his country was traumatized and many voters felt betrayed.
“They don’t know who to trust,” he said.
– “Everyone has lost someone” –
Alisa Yaylakhanyan breaks down in tears as she talks about the recent past and her hopes for the future.
“Everyone lost someone last year,” she told AFP at a cafe in central Yerevan. Several of his friends had died in the war.
The 24-year-old creator supported Pashinyan’s electoral bloc in an election in 2018, but is now excited about Kocharyan, who is from Karabakh and served as its leader in the 1990s.
“When he was in power, those were the best years,” she said, referring to her ten-year stint as head of Armenia.
“When he was president, we didn’t have a massive war.”
Yaylakhanyan also praised the 66-year-old veteran politician for his close ties to Russia and accused Pashinyan of seeking closer ties with arch enemy Azerbaijan and his support Turkey.
A poll released by MPG, a polling group affiliated with Gallup International, showed last week that the Kocharyan bloc led with 24.1% to 23.8% for Pashinyan’s party.
Satenik Muradyan, Artyom’s mother, said she was not sure she wanted to live in Armenia if Pashinyan remained in power.
They came back alive, but she still cries almost every day “over all the boys” who haven’t come back.
“I have always been happy with my country,” she said. “I never wanted to leave before.”
© 2021 AFP