By Hrach Melkumian and Karine Kalantarian
Law-enforcement authorities made at least two arrests on Monday in connection with the murder of Tigran Naghdalian as the chief of Armenia’s state television and radio was buried in Yerevan in the presence of senior government officials, prominent public figures and journalists.
A spokesman for the Armenian prosecutor-general's office told RFE/RL that two men affiliated with a hardline nationalist group and a small opposition party were held for questioning on suspicion of involvement in the high-profile killing. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they may be released from custody and did not rule out more arrests later in the day.
One of the suspects, identified as Albert Mkhitarian, is a member of the Committee to Protect Liberated Lands, a pro-opposition organization opposed to the return of Armenian-occupied territories in Azerbaijan as part of a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The deputy chairman of the group, Armen Yeghian, told RFE/RL that Mkhitarian was detained in his apartment after it was searched by police officers. He claimed that they found only a combat knife and no incriminating evidence.
Mkhitarian is said to be a veteran of the 1991-94 war with Azerbaijan and served in the Armenian military until 1998.
The other detained man, Grigor Sargsian, is affiliated with a small opposition party called Fatherland and Honor. His detention was first reported by a spokeswoman for the Socialist Armenia bloc, of which the party is a member.
There were unconfirmed reports of other individuals held by the police and prosecutor’s office as part of their investigation into the murder. Vladimir Arakelian, a leader of the Tigran Mets former paramilitary group that had also participated in the Karabakh war, said two of its rank-and-file members were taken into custody early on Monday.
Naghdalian, 36, who staunchly supported President Robert Kocharian, was shot and fatally wounded in the head by an unknown gunman late on Saturday as he left his parents’ home in Yerevan. President Robert Kocharian said the apparent contract killing was aimed at undermining Armenia’s “stability and progress” and pledged to punish the guilty.
Some of his supporters have implicitly laid the blame on the Armenian opposition which has long complained about a biased and hostile coverage of its activities by Naghdalian’s Armenian Public Television.
Naghdalian’s body, meanwhile, was laid to rest in Yerevan’s municipal Pantheon in a state funeral organized by special government commission headed by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. The ceremony began with a religious service in the capital’s largest movie theater held by Catholicos Garegin II, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Naghdalian lay in state there in an open coffin, his head covered with a bandage.
(RFE/RL photo: Catholicos Garegin II leading the funeral service for Tigran Naghdalian)