By Emil Danielyan
Armenian prosecutors announced on Friday the launch of a criminal investigation into last week’s explosion that destroyed a car belonging to the editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily highly critical of the government.
Nikol Pashinian’s four-wheel drive vehicle parked just outside his office in downtown Yerevan burst into flames late on November 22 after the blast blamed by the editor on a millionaire businessman close to President Robert Kocharian.
Police initially claimed that the fire was caused by a “breakdown of the car battery’s wires,” effectively denying that Pashinian was attacked by someone. Kocharian is said to have personally endorsed this version of events. However, the paper insists that firefighters who put out the flames concluded that the blast resulted from an arson attack and were under police pressure not to publicize their findings.
Armenia’s Office of Prosecutor-General said in a statement that a forensic examination conducted at the scene has found that the car was burned down by “a source of open fire.” The statement said this gave the Yerevan police grounds to open a criminal case into a possible “deliberate destruction of private property.”
The very fact of state prosecutors announcing an official inquiry to be conducted by a separate law-enforcement agency is quite unusual and remarkable in itself. It is not clear if Kocharian or Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian personally pressured the police to probe the incident unanimously condemned by Armenia’s leading media associations. Some of them have criticized the police for its initial conclusion about the likely cause of the fire.
Pashinian has charged that the apparent attack was orchestrated by Gagik Tsarukian, a business tycoon and parliament deputy, in retaliation for the paper’s critical coverage of his economic and public activities. Tsarukian has dismissed the allegations as untrue.