By Karine Kalantarian
The owner of an embattled television station in the Armenian town of Abovian, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances on Friday, was still missing on Saturday. Relatives of Artashes Mehrabian asked local police to establish his whereabouts after not hearing from him for more than 24 hours.
Law-enforcement officials, however, cast doubt on speculation that Mehrabian was kidnapped by those individuals who attacked and beat him on August 24. Mehrabian and his staff have alleged that the attack was ordered by Abovian’s controversial Mayor Karo Israelian who was incensed by the independent channel’s criticism of his policies.
Armenia’s leading journalist associations, alarmed by the latest developments, requested on Friday an emergency meeting with President Robert Kocharian, hoping that he will address their concerns over the channel’s fate and the overall situation with press freedom. According to Eduard Baghdasarian, chairman of the Armenian Association of Investigative Reporters, Kocharian promised through a spokeswoman to consider the request. Baghdasarian said Kocharian also asked them to submit the list of those journalists who would like to meet with him.
The organizations plan to visit Abovian, 15 kilometers north of Yerevan, on Monday.
Meanwhile, an Abovian police source told RFE/RL that police have already questioned a local man who saw and talked to Mehrabian shortly after his disappearance. Mehrabian, according to the source, told the man that he is traveling to Nagorno-Karabakh where he will spend several days.
But Mehrabian’s sister, Marine, insisted that he would not have gone on a trip without informing his family.
The Abovian TV’s director, Azniv Chizmechian, reiterated on Saturday that Mehrabian called her about two hours after leaving his home and instructed to stop broadcasts. “He told us not to worry about him and said that the TV company will resume broadcasts after his return,” Chizmechian told RFE/RL. “But he said he doesn’t know when he will be back.”
“I am very concerned because I had never received any orders from him to stop our work,” she added.
Chizmechian too was reportedly mistreated by a group of young men that burst into the channel’s premises on August 24. She believes that Mehrabian’s alleged kidnapping was also ordered by the Abovian mayor. “I am convinced that he is behind all of this,” she said.