AGANUSH GASPARYAN, wearing a simple black dress with her silver
hair pulled tight into a bun, emerged from polling place 201 in a
school on the outskirts of this capital city with a slight smile of
"Now they ask the opinion of the people," the grandmother
declared. "Many years ago they didn't ask us. They said, this one
is going to be the leader and you go vote for him. Now we have the
opportunity to choose."
Yesterday the people of this mountainous republic exercised this
basic democratic right for the first time in their history. Six
candidates, along with vice presidential running mates, are
competing for the newly created post of president. About 2.2
million eligible voters entered booths in schools, hospitals, and
even geology institutes to mark paper ballots with their choice.
The calm and relatively ordered scenes of democracy here
contrast with the tumult in the republic of Georgia just to the
north. There, opponents call the recently elected government a
budding dictatorship, leading many to question whether democracy
will survive in the republics seeking independence from the Soviet
The Armenian election has not been without controversy, however.
It took a supreme court decision to reinstate a candidate barred by
the central election commission for errors in collecting signatures
required to support his candidacy. And some candidates charge the
election process has been rigged to favor Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the
chairman of the parliament and the leader of the ruling Armenian
Bitter campaign debate
The campaign, which officially began on Sept. 28, has been
marked as well by often bitter debate over the moderate policies of
Mr. Ter-Petrosyan's nationalist government which ousted the
Communists from power last year.
While pursuing independence, Ter-Petrosyan is avoiding open
confrontation with the Moscow leadership. Tomorrow, for example, he
will join other republican leaders in signing a treaty to form a
new economic community. Last month he backed a mediation effort by
Russian President Boris Yeltsin to try to resolve the bloody
dispute with the neighboring Azerbaijan over the fate of the
Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikyan, a well-known radical
nationalist, assails Ter-Petrosyan for betraying the results of a
Sept. 21 referendum when about 95 percent of the population voted
The decision to join talks on an economic pact is "immoral and
illegal," he says. The bearded former dissident sees no benefit in
economic ties with other Soviet republics. "We are getting the
crumbs of what they don't have, what they are going to ask the West
for," Mr. Hayrikyan says.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict raises even sharper emotions.
Hundreds have been killed and hundreds of thousands made homeless
in the Armenian-Azeri battle over the fate of this territory which
began in 1988. Last month Yeltsin, along with Kazakhstan President
Nursultan Nazarbayev, arranged the first face-to-face meeting of
the leaders from both sides and brokered an agreement to begin
talks under their joint guarantee of security.
This agreement "is capitulation on the part of Armenia," says
vice presidential candidate Vahan Hovannessian, who shares the
ticket of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation with actor Sos
"In order to have a political solution, we must have our own
army and defense system," insists Parliament member and
presidential candidate Rafael Kazaryan. …