By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian police claimed on Thursday to have resumed their investigation into last April’s brutal beating of Ashot Manucharian, a prominent opposition figure, after he reportedly recognized one of his assailants.
The daily “Aravot” published on Wednesday the picture of a man who Manucharian’s friends and associates say took part in the attack. He was described as a native of Nagorno-Karabakh called Vrezh. His last name has not been publicized so far.
An official in the police department of Yerevan’s central Kentron district told RFE/RL that the investigators are now “checking the veracity of the information.” It emerged that they on Wednesday questioned Edik Baghdasarian, a prominent investigative journalist and the source of the newspaper report.
Baghdasarian said he was asked questions about details of his own journalistic investigation. He said police officers also told him that they would like to interrogate Manucharian but that the latter refuses to cooperate with them because he feels that the attackers were linked to the law-enforcement authorities.
The suspicion about a government involvement in the beating, also voiced by other opposition leaders, was reinforced by the investigators’ decision last June to suspend the criminal investigation for lack of evidence. Contacted by RFE/RL, Manucharian did not confirm or deny the report that led to its apparent resumption. But according to his close associates who claim to have conducted their own inquiry, he indeed believes that the pictured man was among the persons that attacked him in broad daylight in downtown Yerevan on April 22.
Manucharian, who held top security positions in Armenia’s first post-Communist government in the early 1990s, suffered a fractured jaw and spent days in intensive care. He also reportedly underwent plastic surgery shortly afterward.
Baghdasarian said the photo in question was taken during an April 5 opposition rally in the capital, suggesting that Vrezh was among two dozen well-built men with mostly shaven heads who nearly disrupted it. They also attacked journalists covering the protest, smashing their still and video cameras.
The attack on Manucharian was the latest in a series of beatings of prominent individuals critical of the Armenian government. Among them were opposition leader Victor Dallakian and human rights campaigner Mikael Danielian. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressed on April 29 concern at “an alarming lack of progress” in the official inquiries. Nobody has so far been arrested or charged in connection with those incidents.
The violence coincided with an opposition campaign of protests against the rule of President Robert Kocharian. Although Manucharian is not formally affiliated with any of the opposition groups that spearheaded the campaign, he is thought to have supported it from behind the scenes, through a non-governmental organization called the Intellectual Forum.
In Baghdasarian’s words, Manucharian was in contact last spring with a broad range of prominent individuals, including government officials and businessmen. “He was explaining to everyone why regime change is necessary,” the journalist said. “He was sort of trying to consolidate people supporting regime change.”
(Photolur photo: Ashot Manucharian.)