By Shakeh Avoyan
The brother of opposition leader Aram Sarkisian is running for the Armenian parliament despite being kept in custody on charges of ordering the killing of state television chief Tigran Naghdalian.
Businessman Armen Sarkisian, arrested on March 15, has been nominated as a candidate in a constituency in his home town of Ararat in southern Armenia. He enjoys the strong backing of Aram Sarkisian’s Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party which has condemned the murder case as fabricated and politically motivated.
Hanrapetutyun leaders told RFE/RL on Tuesday that they have already collected about 1,000 signatures of local voters, much more than is required for his registration as a parliamentary candidate by Armenia’s Electoral Code. They said they will submit the signatures and other registration documents to the local election commission later this week.
Armenian law allows individuals kept in pre-trial detention to contest various-level elections. Hanrapetutyun, which is a key member of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, hopes that Armen Sarkisian’s election to the parliament would deal a blow to the credibility of the charges leveled by state prosecutors.
The prosecutors insist that they have compelling evidence showing that the suspect paid one of his distant relatives, Hovannes Harutiunian, $75,000 to arrange Naghdalian’s shooting last December. Hovannisian’s videotaped confession was recently aired by state television.
Sarkisian, however, has denied any involvement in Naghdalian’s death. His lawyers say he was blackmailed by Harutiunian. Further details of the case are not yet known. A top prosecutor told RFE/RL earlier that the ongoing criminal investigation will likely be completed and sent to court before the elections.
Sarkisian is vying for the parliament seat from the Ararat constituency along with seven other candidates. The most influential of them is Firdus Zakarian, a deputy mayor of Yerevan backed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party. Incidentally, Zakarian was a longtime friend of Sarkisian’s second brother Vazgen who was assassinated in the 1999 terrorist attack on the National Assembly.
Ararat and surrounding areas have been the Sarkisian family’s political stronghold for much of the past decade.