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By Ruzanna Stepanian
An association uniting mainly journalists critical of the Armenian government declared on Wednesday the influential chief of President Robert Kocharian’ staff an “enemy of the press,” citing his reputed grip on the local electronic media.

Narine Mkrtchian, chairwoman of the National Press Club (MAA), said Armen Gevorgian has been given the group’s annual “award” for “playing the role of the main censor of the Armenian media field.”

Gevorgian, 32, has worked as a top aide to Kocharian since 1997 and took over the latter’s staff last February, underlining his status as a key member of the presidential inner circle. He has grown particularly influential and reportedly developed extensive business interests in the last few years.

Gevorgian is also thought to be personally overseeing the work of Armenia’s national television stations loyal to Kocharian. Their coverage of elections and other political developments in the country has repeatedly been criticized as extremely biased by local and Western democracy watchdogs. One of them, the New York-based Freedom House, again described the Armenian media as “not free” in an annual global survey of press freedom that was released last week.

Mkrtchian said she and most of the 22 other members of MAA chose Gevorgian from a pool of five candidates, including Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. In her words, MAA journalists find Sarkisian, who allegedly finances some pro-government newspapers, guilty of “introducing methods of corrupt and shady management into the media.”

The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, was also considered for the embarrassing title. Narine Dilbarian, another MAA leader, said some of her colleagues feel that Evans is turning a blind eye to alleged violations of press freedom in Armenia.

(Photolur photo: Armen Gevorgian.)
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