By Nane Atshemian and Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian police flatly denied over the weekend any ulterior motives behind the de facto closure of a Yerevan firm accused of illegally producing and selling music recordings.
Officers from a police unit tasked with fighting organized crime, terrorism and drug trafficking raided the offices of the Reco Records company late last month, briefly detaining its staff and confiscating its property. The national Police Service said the action by its powerful Sixth Directorate was part of a broader crackdown on widespread copyright violations in Armenia.
“It turned out that this company has never signed any agreements with any music performer ever since its creation in 1998,” the deputy police chief, Hovannes Hunanian, told reporters. “We also found out that the company has engaged in large-scale activities and now controls about 70 percent of the business in the republic.”
But the Reco Records owner, David Khanoyan, insists that the controversial chief of the Sixth Directorate, Ashot Gizirian, is simply helping one of his relatives involved in the music business. “Ashot Gizirian is a relative of the owner of the KK company which is our competitor,” Khanoyan told RFE/RL as he and his employees protested against what see as illegal police actions outside the presidential palace in Yerevan on Wednesday.
“KK can not prevail in fair competition in this market,” he claimed. “That is why they are now forcing singers and music kiosks to cooperate only with the KK recording studio. We are standing in their way.”
Hunanian dismissed the allegations endorsed by newspapers critical of the Armenian authorities. “Instead of stepping onto the path of legality and signing agreements with singers, Khanoyan and his brother have opted for media blackmail and tried to somehow discredit the police,” he said. “The Reco Records owners will be prosecuted despite the outcry, he added.
For his part, the chief police spokesman Sayad Shirinian lambasted journalists for “slandering” law-enforcement authorities. “Now that a struggle [for respect of intellectual property] is underway journalists are looking for other motives,” he complained.” “This is not a struggle between Gizirian and the Khanoyans, as is claimed by journalists, but a police struggle for performers’ rights.”
The police say they acted in response to a complaint from an Armenian company that holds the copyright of songs by most local singers and has the exclusive right to sell it to recording firms. But the Reco Records owners stress that they are the only company targeted by the authorities so far.
The sale of pirated disks and audio cassettes is illegal but commonplace in Armenia. Virtually all of the albums by foreign singers sold in the local music shops are pirate copies.
“There isn’t a single recording studio in Armenia that operates in accordance with the law,” admitted the head of the Justice Ministry’s Agency for Intellectual Property, Armen Azizian.
Both Azizian and Hunanian claimed that the authorities are determined to crack down on everyone infringing on intellectual property. Asked if any company other than Reco Records has been punished as a result, the deputy police chief said, “We have detected large quantities of counterfeit vodka with forged excise duty stamps and so on.”
Gizirian was already embroiled in a high-profile scandal three years ago when he headed Yerevan’s police department. A pro-government member of the Armenian parliament claimed at the time to have been beaten up by a group of police officers led by Gizirian. The incident was never investigated in earnest despite protests from several other parliamentarians affiliated with the governing Republican Party. Shortly afterwards, Gizirian was promoted to run the most feared and powerful division of the Armenian police.