By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Hrach Melkumian
Armenian investigators have not yet identified any suspects in the high-profile murder of the state television chief Tigran Naghdalian despite a series of arrests on the new year’s eve, officials told RFE/RL on Saturday.
Two opposition activists were still under arrest on charges apparently not related to the December 28 killing.
A senior source in the Armenian prosecutor-general’s office said the law-enforcement authorities continue to explore several theories of the crime but refused to reveal any of them, citing the confidentiality of the inquiry. The prosecutors publicized on Friday two telephone hotlines in the hope of getting helpful tip-offs from ordinary Armenians. The move suggested that they have not yet found any leads that might help them solve the case.
More than a dozen people were reportedly rounded up for questioning in the immediate aftermath of Naghdalian’s murder. The Tigran Mets former paramilitary group that had participated in the Nagorno-Karabakh war said eight of its members were taken into custody and interrogated by the police and prosecutors.
Another hardline nationalist group critical of President Robert Kocharian, the Committee to Support Liberated Lands, reported three such arrests. One of its briefly detained senior members, Albert Mkhitarian, told RFE/RL on Friday that the investigators inquired about his possible ties with Naghdalian after searching his Yerevan apartment for illegal weapons.
The police and prosecutor’s office have refused to officially confirm or deny those reports. Sources confirmed only that two senior members of the opposition Socialist Armenia bloc, Grigor Sargsian and Azat Arshakian, were sentenced to a ten-day “administrative arrest” by a court of first instance on December 31.
The reasons for their imprisonment are still unclear. A Socialist Armenia spokeswoman said the two men were punished for allegedly calling for a violent overthrow of the government. She said Arshakian holds a Russian passport and has requested a meeting with the Russian consul in Yerevan.
The bloc’s leader and presidential candidate, Garnik Markarian, denounced the arrests, saying that the “criminal regime” is exploiting the widely condemned murder to crack down on its opponents ahead of the February 19 presidential elections. A similar statement was issued by the Tigran Mets leadership earlier this week. The statement linked Naghdalian’s killing to the protracted official investigation into the October 1999 massacre in the Armenian parliament.
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. Some of his friends and other Kocharian supporters have implicitly accused the opposition of involvement in his death which bore the hallmarks of a contract killing.