By Hovannes Shoghikian and Emil Danielyan
The leader of an opposition party that controls a leading Armenian newspaper said at the weekend that he suspects Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian of being behind last week’s reported beating of its editor-in-chief.
Hovannes Galajian of the “Iravunk” bi-weekly and his staff believe the incident was the result of their hard-hitting coverage of Armenia’s leaders and their loyalists. They have implicitly described Sarkisian as one of its possible organizers, pointing to a recent “Iravunk” article that attacked and derided the powerful minister.
Sarkisian dismissed such suggestions on Thursday, saying that Galajian is too insignificant a person to incur his ire. “I don’t fight against or punish wretched people. I just ignore them,” he said.
According to Hrant Khachatrian of the Union for Constitutional Rights (SIM) party, which founded “Iravunk” more than 15 years ago, the remarks only reinforced his suspicion that Sarkisian may have ordered the violence. “We had a number of equally valid theories relating to Hovannes Galajian’s discourse against both economic and political criminal elements,” Khachatrian told journalists. “But after Serzh Sarkisian’s reaction I began to have more suspicions [about his involvement.]”
Galajian claims to have been beaten up by two unknown men outside his Yerevan home on Wednesday. He says the attackers resembled the notoriously violent bodyguards of wealthy businessmen close to the government. They are usually beefy and have very short haircuts.
The reported attack, which is being investigated by the police, has been widely condemned by Armenian human rights groups, journalist associations and opposition parties. The country’s human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, has also joined in the chorus of condemnations, saying that the law-enforcement authorities are not doing enough to prevent periodical violence against local journalists.
Sarkisian’s contemptuous description of the “Iravunk” editor prompted on Saturday a scathing commentary by “Haykakan Zhamanak,” another paper highly critical of the government. In a front-page editorial, the popular daily said Armenia’s second most powerful man should look for “wretched people” in his entourage, rather than the media. “As for us [journalists,] the only argument in support of our wretchedness is that we tolerate [Sarkisian] and the likes of him at the helm of our state,” it snapped.
(Photolur photo: Hrant Khachatrian.)