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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The son of Armenia’s former Minister for Urban Development Ara Aramian has been given a suspended six-year prison sentence for his role in a shootout in a downtown Yerevan café last March, judicial officials said on Tuesday.

Hayk Aramian, 24, was convicted of deliberately opening fire from an illegally owned handgun and injuring three men late on Monday, according to an aide to the judge who presided over his one-day trial in a district court of Yerevan. Another defendant, a café guard, got a 3 ½-year suspended jail term for stabbing Aramian and his companion.

The court hearings drew to a close a few hours after their start, with the judge, Mnatsakanian Martirosian, saying that he will hand down the verdict on Tuesday. Seeking to find out the precise time of its announcement, an RFE/RL correspondent phoned Mnatsakanian the next morning only to be told that the ruling was already delivered.

Other journalists covering the trial were likewise unable to hear the sentences. It is thus unclear when and in whose presence they were read out.

The punishment mirrored the one demanded by the trial prosecutor Koryun Piloyan and both defendants refused to hire defense attorneys, suggesting that they struck a deal with the investigators.

The shooting, an apparent settling of scores between two groups of young men, occurred in a café called Triumph late on March 12. It was reportedly heard by President Robert Kocharian who was entertaining his visiting Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili in an adjacent nightspot.

The incident triggered a scandal leading to the resignation of Aramian senior under apparent pressure from his Orinats Yerkir Party. But shortly afterward he was appointed as the chief adviser to parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, the Orinats Yerkir leader.

Aramian on Tuesday refused to comment on his son’s conviction, saying only that the latter will not appeal it. The ex-minister has previously vigorously defended him.

“My son has never carried a weapon, smoked or drunk,” he told RFE/RL last spring. “He has always served as a standard for people surrounding him.”

Another senior member of Orinats Yerkir, Samvel Balasanian, claimed at the time that Hayk Aramian did not shoot at all. “It wasn’t Aramian’s son who opened fire. And why aren’t you saying that Aramian’s son was stabbed in the back?” he told journalists.

Hayk Aramian spent only two months in pre-trial detention and the court ruling means that he will avoid going to jail for what might have otherwise been deemed a serious crime by the Armenian law-enforcement authorities. The clearly lenient punishment he got is certain to raise fresh questions about Armenian citizens’ equality before the law.

It contrasts sharply with the 18-month imprisonment of another 24-year-old man who hurled a plastic bottle of mineral water at a police officer during the violent break-up of an opposition demonstration in Yerevan last April. The man, Edgar Arakelian, lost last week his last realistic chance of acquittal when Armenia’s highest court turned down his appeal against the harsh punishment condemned by opposition leaders and human rights activists.

(Photolur photo: Ara Aramian.)
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