By Emil Danielyan
A controversial lawmaker accused by critics of leading a mobster clan in his native region was appointed on Thursday as the new governor of Armenia’s southeastern Syunik region.
Surik Khachatrian, who has close ties with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), was named by the government to replace Edik Barseghian, a former chief of the Armenian traffic police. A government statement gave no reasons for Barseghian’s sacking and the choice of his successor.
A parliament deputy since 1995, Khachatrian, 47, is better known to the public with his “Liska” nickname. A former car mechanic, he rose to prominence during the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in 1992-94 when he was the commander of paramilitary and army units in his native town of Goris. He later became a senior member of the once powerful Yerkrapah Union of war veterans.
Goris and the surrounding district are adjacent to the Lachin corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh and are part of the bigger Syunik region. The area has long been considered a de facto personal fiefdom of Khachatrian and his extended family. The clan controls the local administration and most businesses, reportedly fighting back any challenges to its hegemony.
Media speculation has often linked Khachatrian to violent incidents reported from Goris. His two nephews, for example, are currently facing criminal prosecution on charges of murdering a local man earlier this month.
In a recent newspaper interview, Khachatrian did not deny their guilt, but insisted that he had no role in the killing. He also acknowledged his unofficial status, saying that Goris residents know that “their ultimate salvation lies in my office.” “Things are always sad here when I’m not in town,” he said.
That Khachatrian will be appointed governor was announced by the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily in its Thursday edition. The paper suggested that he will get the job to make way for Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s election to the Armenian parliament from the Goris constituency. It claimed that Sarkisian has set his sights on the post of parliament speaker.
Incidentally, Khachatrian had been a bitter enemy of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a member of the ruling coalition that was in opposition to Armenia’s former government. The nationalist party accused him of overthrowing in 1992 the elected head of the Goris district administration affiliated with Dashnaktsutyun.