By Karine Kalantarian
The editor of a newspaper in southeastern Armenia whose offices were allegedly ransacked by pro-government youths last October reported on Friday an arson attack on his car, alleging that it was ordered by the controversial local governor.
Samvel Aleksanian of the “Syuniats Yerkir” weekly based in Kapan, the administrative center of the Syunik region, said his Russian-made four-wheel drive burst into flames early in the morning and burned completely by the time firefighters arrived at the scene. He said the car was parked in the courtyard of his house in Goris, another major regional town.
“I consider the incident yet another manifestation of unchecked terrorist actions taken by the Syunik governor against the ‘Syuniats Yerkir’ newspaper,” Aleksanian charged in a statement. He said the governor, Surik Khachatrian, was furious with an interview which he gave to a Yerevan newspaper on March 12 and has since bullied him through unspecified “intermediaries.”
Khachatrian angrily denied the charges and threatened to sue the editor. “I have more serious tasks and troubles than dealing with his car,” he told RFE/RL by phone, while attending a local funeral.
“I hear the news from you,” Khachatrian claimed. “Let me just wait until the funeral is over and I’ll take him to the court within an hour.”
The chief regional prosecutor, Rudik Grigorian, told RFE/RL that law-enforcement have opened a criminal case in connection with the incident and will conduct forensic tests to try to establish its possible cause. But Aleksanian said that he will not cooperate with the investigators because he believes Armenia’s constitution and laws are not enforced in Syunik.
Aleksanian and his staff were already assaulted in their Kapan office a group of young men in early October after the paper ran articles questioning government policies. The journalists blamed the attack on the local youth wing of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK). The police investigated the violence but did not prosecute anyone.
Syunik’s governor, notorious for his “Liska” nickname, has close ties with the HHK. A former parliament deputy, he was based in Goris until his gubernatorial appointment by the central government in March 2004. Goris and the surrounding villages have long been considered a de facto fiefdom of Khachatrian and his extended family.
The incident reported by Aleksanian is not the first of its kind in Armenia. Last November the car belonging to Nikol Pashinian, editor of the popular “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily highly critical of the government, was destroyed in a similar fashion. Pashinian blamed the arson attack on Gagik Tsarukian, one of Armenia’s richest men close to President Robert Kocharian.
The tycoon denied the allegations. An ensued police investigation concluded that the fire was ignited by a “breakdown of the car battery’s wiring.” Pashinian laughed off the explanation, alleging a high-level cover-up.