By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s leading opposition parties staged late Monday a silent demonstration against a jazz concert at a Yerevan café where President Robert Kocharian’s bodyguards reportedly beat to death a man last September.
More than two hundred people gathered outside the once popular nightspot to condemn what they believe is a high-level cover-up of the crime.
The somber action was the latest in a series of opposition rallies sparked off by the de facto closure on April 2 of the independent A1+ television channel. The resulting concerns about press freedom in Armenia have prompted 13 opposition groups to join forces and step up their attacks on Kocharian.
“This is primarily aimed at people’s conscience,” said Stepan Zakarian, a senior member of the opposition People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK). “A normal person can not enjoy himself in a bloodstained place.”
Zakarian was referring to the violent death on the night from September 24 to 25 of Poghos Poghosian, an Armenian community activist from the southern Georgian region of Javakhetia. Poghosian’s badly injured body was found in the restroom of the Aragast café shortly after Kocharian left it with his entourage. Some eyewitnesses have said that Poghosian was attacked and beaten by several men who looked like security officials.
But only one of the presidential bodyguards was tried. A Yerevan court gave Aghamal Harutiuniana a one-year suspended jail sentence in February, convicting him of involuntary manslaughter. The court largely endorsed prosecutors’ claims that Poghosian died accidentally in a fistfight with Harutiunian after greeting Kocharian in a way his bodyguards found too familiar.
However, the victim’s family and human rights groups have alleged that the Armenian law-enforcement agencies have failed to properly investigate the café death and punish the guilty. Human Rights Watch has accused Kocharian of reneging on his pledge to bring to justice all perpetrators of the crime.
Monday’s opposition protest was against the holding of a “jam session” at Aragast which concluded a jazz festival organized by the U.S. embassy in Armenia. The protesters held mourning flowers and lit candles as they stood silently by a small pond that separated them from the café.
The victim’s brother, Andranik Poghosian, was among them. He again condemned the authorities’ handling of the politically embarrassing case. “That was not a trial, that was a disgrace,” he said.
Shavarsh Kocharian, the leader of the opposition National Democratic Party (AZhK), agreed, saying that the crime was “covered up.” “This action has a largely moral significance,” he told RFE/RL. “We want to state that it is inadmissible to kill a person with impunity in this country.”