Border shootings amid campaign: Will Azeri bullets leave traces on Armenian elections?

Most Armenian parties contesting seats in the National Assembly in the May 6 elections say the recent escalation of tensions along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border won’t disrupt the normal course of the country’s political process.

The situation in the northeastern borderline areas of Armenia as well as along the line of contact in Karabakh has remained particularly tense in the past few days, with the military authorities in both Yerevan and Stepanakert reporting a troubling surge in the number of ceasefire violations.

In one such ceasefire violation a kindergarten in the Armenian border village of Dovegh had to be evacuated on Wednesday after being reportedly hit by automatic gunfire from nearby Azerbaijani army positions. No casualties were reported in that gunfire that lasted for more than half an hour and was described by local villagers as the most ferocious since the 1994 ceasefire.

Meanwhile, an Armenian ambulance was targeted near the Karabakh-Azeri frontline positions, with two ethnic Armenian soldiers wounded in that attack.

And on Friday morning three Armenian soldiers were killed in the Tavush province of Armenia in an apparent Azeri sniper attack that left their car riddled with bullets.

Addressing a campaign rally in the Tavush province hours after that incident President Serzh Sargsyan, who is also the leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), stressed that such enemy attacks could not disrupt the political process in the country.

“Let no one think that they can take advantage of the political processes in our country or think that we are busy with elections. We have a strong army and will resort to corresponding steps. I think none of you doubts that the enemy will be duly rebuffed,” said Sargsyan, addressing people in the town of Stepanavan.

Residents of the Tavush villages situated close to the border with Azerbaijan say Azeri sniper activity has been particularly high in the past several weeks – a period coinciding with the springtime farming and this year also with the start of the parliamentary election campaign in Armenia.

“Shootings have been a common thing here, but in the past two weeks they’ve become more intensive, so we don’t know what they mean by that. The fire is so intense that people have stopped taking their cattle to the pastures and engaging in spring sowing work in their land. It can be said that the village is paralyzed,” says Manvel Kamendatyan, the mayor of the village of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur in the Tavush province.

Some political analysts say it is a usual Azeri tactic of heightening border tensions ahead of every election in Armenia. But some also say by doing this they, willy-nilly, play into the hands of some political forces in Armenia who try to capitalize on the “external threat” factor in their struggle for votes.

Manvel Sargsyan, the head of the Armenian Center for National and International Studies, cites the remarks of the president made in Dilijan as evidence.

“Immediately, for some reason, the president linked the incident to the election campaign, which is a little unclear. So, one can already see the desire of the governing force to use the border incidents as the external threat factor in its current campaign,” says the analyst.

Former Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekyan, who is currently an MP with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also addressed the recent border shootings at a meeting with a group of intellectuals in Yerevan.

“If a war is declared on Armenia tomorrow, we are ready to defend ourselves, but it won’t be easy with the budget and policies that we have today. Dashnaktsutyun is the only force capable of ensuring the real security of our country. For this it is necessary to raise the prestige of our army and turn military service into an honorable occupation,” said Aghabekyan. “We have no right to be quiet when three of our compatriots have been killed on the border.”

But member of the opposition Heritage party Armen Martirosyan warned against speculating on “the enemy’s provocative actions and aggression” in the internal political process in Armenia.

“If it were our internal problem or the problem of hazing in the army, in that case we could once again address this problem as an internal political matter. But in this case we are dealing with the defense of Armenia, and regardless of our positions, I think we all must give our support to the army,” said the candidate.

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