Armenian-American Vote Monitor ‘Blackmailed’ In Election Fraud Probe

Narine Esmaeli

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—An Armenian-American observer who claims to have witnessed serious fraud in Armenia’s recent presidential election on Tuesday accused law-enforcement authorities in Yerevan of blackmailing her with intimate photographs that were taken secretly.

Narine Esmaeli, who works for the Armenian branch of Transparency International, monitored the February 18 election together with a local observer at a polling station in Artashat, a town notorious for electoral fraud and violence. They were part of a vote-monitoring group set up by the Europe Union of Law, a Yerevan-based non-governmental organization.

They say they were assaulted by a large group of government loyalists that stuffed hundreds of ballots. Esmaeli has also accused local police officers of bullying her after the incident.

The allegations picked up by Armenian opposition and civic groups resulted in the launch of a criminal investigation by the Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement agency subordinate to state prosecutors. They also led Armenia’s Constitutional Court to invalidate the official vote results in the troubled Artashat precinct.

Esmaeli claimed that the chief SIS investigator in the case, Gorik Hovakimian, told her in a phone call on March 19 that the Transparency International office in Yerevan has sent him intimate pictures of her along with purported evidence of vote rigging in Artashat. “He said that he wants to kindly return them to me,” the 21-year-old woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

“I didn’t go to pick up the photos because I don’t care about them. It was obvious that they will use them for blackmail,” she said.

The SIS offered a different version of events, saying that it got hold of a more than 5-hour-long footage taken in the bathroom of Esmaeli’s Yerevan apartment. In a written reply to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), the law-enforcement body claimed that the video was sent to the Central Election Commission by the Europe Union of Law.

Sona Ayvazian, deputy director of Transparency International’s Armenian branch, laughed off the SIS claims, saying that neither her group nor the Europe Union of Law could have secretly filmed or photographed Esmaeli.

“Either there is no such private material or the police themselves secretly filmed it,” Ayvazian said. “Narine’s apartment is right next to a police station and they could have filmed it. Such methods are simply ridiculous in the modern world.”

The allegations of blackmail appear to have been taken seriously by the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan. U.S. Ambassador John Heffern met with Esmaeli on March 21, two days after the alleged phone call from the SIS investigator.

An embassy statement issued after the meeting said that Heffern “will continue to monitor the case very closely.” “The welfare of United States citizens abroad remains the highest priority for the United States government,” added the statement.

Esmaeli and the SIS traded other accusations earlier in March. The Armenian-American activist’s lawyer, Tigran Yegorian, attempted to record her interrogations by investigators after she accused them of distorting her testimony written down by them. The SIS denounced Yegorian’s actions as illegal before asking Armenia’s Chamber of Advocates to take disciplinary action against the lawyer.

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11 Comments

  1. George said:

    She can’t expect US level of democracy in Armenia, US took 200 years to reach to this point, I don’t think that the percentage of the fraud would have changed much the final result, She is full of BS, she made her point and now is the time to shut her mouth and pray for Armenia, the enemies of Armenia are waiting an opportunity to divide the people of Armenia.

    • Kohar said:

      To George, Satenik, and the others leaving comments on this page. YOU have no idea what Narine went through during the elections. She is a hero for standing up for what she believes in despite pathetic Hanrabedagan goons stalking her, tapping her phone, and threatening to release inappropriate photos. Comparing her to the Obama girl just proves that you have no idea what is going on in Armenia.

      AMOT to you for writing from your comfortable chair in Glendale instead of being an active member in our country’s future.

      Abres Narine – you have my support :-)

  2. GB said:

    All I can tell, that there are many, who wants to be as a public figure or publicity!!

    This remind me of that girl during Obama’s winning election, who punch herself and wrote the “B” letter backward on her face, and claimed that Obama’s supporters beat her up!!

  3. Hagop hagopian said:

    What a joke, why would anyone tape 5 hours of video of someone’s bathroom? I don’t know anyone who would spend 5 continuous hours in a bathroom, that must have been one boring video. No wonder she didn’t pick it up.

  4. Satenik said:

    Giving more ammunition to our enemies. At best she is stupid, at worst ,she is a traitor. The election is over. Armenians should unite and stop stirring things up!It’s her route of being famous for 5 minutes!

  5. Avery said:

    these so-called ‘brave’ activists can show their true bravery by going to the LOC with Azerbaijan.
    let us see how many will stay there more than 5 seconds if they watch a 19 year old Armenian young man get shot in the head next to them by an enemy sniper.

    they will throw up and wet themselves, before passing out.

    the true brave are there at the hot, dusty LOC – not in a safe air conditioned studio or office in Yerevan – protecting these fake ‘braves’ who are trying to cause damage to our young Republic.

  6. Steve said:

    Narine, you and those like you are the future (if Armenia is to have any future). The vileness of some of the comments here is some indication of how afraid of the oncoming change the criminal politicians of Armenia are becoming.

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