By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Emil Danielyan
The United States on Thursday disclosed the name of an Armenian company and businessman it subjected to sanctions for allegedly transferring sensitive technology or equipment to Iran in breach of U.S. and international regulations. The two entities were identified as the Lizen Open Joint Stock Company and Armen Sarkisian.
The names appeared in a notice in the Federal Register, a U.S. government gazette, together with those of eight Chinese and two Moldovan firms and individuals also facing the two-year penalties. News of the sanctions was announced by the State Department on May 9.
Armenian government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Experts and other well-informed sources contacted by RFE/RL suggested that the sanctions apparently apply to an Armenian chemical firm which is actually called Lizin.
Located in the town of Charentsavan 30 kilometers north of Yerevan, Lizin has for decades produced an eponymous biochemical substance used for enhancing the effectiveness of animal fodder. Its principal raw material is beet. Lizin is said to accelerate the growth of the cattle dramatically.
A senior source familiar with Charentsavan’s once burgeoning Soviet-era industry said lizin was in turn used for the production of “anti-radiation proteins” that increase blood resistance to nuclear radiation, cancer and other disease. The source said the substance has been exported to Ukraine and Belarus, countries that are still reeling from the 1986 devastating accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station.
It is not included in the list of products exported by Armenia to Iran last year.
But one former government official claimed that Lizin’s “unique and sophisticated” equipment was “dismantled and sold to Iran last year.” “This could not have happened without the government’s knowledge,” he told RFE/RL.
The claims could not be immediately checked with the Armenian ministry of industry.
According to AFP, the Federal Register notice did not specify what technology and equipment the Armenian and other entities had sold, saying only that the sanctions were imposed under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, which prohibits the sale of chemical and biological weapons components and missiles and missile technology to the Islamic republic.
The sources who asked not to be identified revealed that the Armenian businessman mentioned by the State Department is apparently the brother of Vazgen Sarkisian, Armenia’s assassinated former prime minister. They said Armen Sarkisian bought Lizin in the late 1990s when his late brother served as defense minister and was one of the country’s most powerful men. It is not clear whether the state retained a minority stake in the company.
The sanctions prohibit Lizin and Sarkisian from receiving any US government contracts and from purchasing any defense items from the United States. In announcing them, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the penalties will not apply to the Armenian, Chinese or Moldovan governments. The Armenian foreign ministry said shortly afterwards that it has started “an active dialogue” with Washington to investigate the embarrassing allegations.
Lizin, just like most other Charentsavan factories, has faced enormous economic difficulties since the Soviet collapse in 1991, losing its traditional markets and failing to find new ones. The town's unemployment rate is one of the highest in the country.