By Karine Kalantarian
Urban Development Minister Ara Aramian faced Monday more embarrassing questions about his son’s role in the March 12 gunfight in a café in downtown Yerevan that threw a renewed spotlight on the lifestyle of senior Armenian officials and their relatives.
The 24-year-old Hayk Aramian was among at least five men wounded in the mafia-style shoot-out that was heard by the presidents of Armenia and Georgia as they dined in an adjacent entertainment site. According to media reports, close relatives of other high-ranking officials, including Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian and Yerevan Mayor Yervand Zakharian, were also involved in the apparent settling of scores.
Law-enforcement authorities investigating the incident are unusually secretive, refusing to give any details. It is not even known whether criminal charges have been leveled against any of the participants.
The gunfight appears to have been a major embarrassment for President Robert Kocharian who prides himself on keeping Armenia’s crime rate relatively low. Speaking on Friday, Kocharian said ministers and other top officials should make sure that their family members lead a “modest” life and avoid public scandals. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian claimed earlier last week to have repeatedly issued such warnings to his subordinates.
Aramian defended the integrity of his family as he was pressed by journalists on the affair. They were invited to a news conference devoted to the Armenian government’s efforts to secure Japan’s assistance in coping with mountain landslides that regularly inflict substantial damage on the country’s roads and other infrastructure. But the issue was overshadowed by lingering questions about the café shootings, with Aramian struggling to end the embarrassing grilling.
“My family and children are the most modest in the world,” he said, adding that he could cite “thousands of examples of my sons being good and well-behaved.” He claimed that Hayk Aramian did nothing wrong and urged the media not to “make comments without having correct information.”
The incident could also prove damaging for the Orinats Yerkir Party of which Aramian is a member. It is led by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and is one of the three members of the governing coalition.