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By Anna Saghabalian
Armenia remains one of the safest countries in Europe and the former Soviet Union despite a series of high-profile killings committed this year, the national Police Service insisted on Friday.

Lieutenant-General Ararat Mahtesian, deputy chief of the law-enforcement agency, downplayed a 12 percent increase in the number of crimes registered by the Armenian police during the first nine months of this year. Mahtesian argued that 2005 saw one of the lowest crime rates in the country’s history and claimed a continuing fall in the share of murders in the overall crime statistics.

“This indicator is very good for the Republic of Armenia compared with that of many other countries,” Mahtesian told reporters, referring to the number of crimes per 100,000 people. The Armenian crime rate is nine and four times lower than the figures registered in Russia and Georgia respectively, and compares favorably with that of many European countries, he said.

“This is probably the reason why certain high-profile crimes immediately attract public attention,” added the police general. “Cases which would be somewhat ordinary for neighboring countries are unique for us.”

Mahtesian held a news conference one day after attending parliamentary hearings during which the Armenian police was criticized for failing to solve most of the recent high-profile killings.

Their most famous victim, senior tax official Shahen Hovasapian, was blown up in a car outside his home in central Yerevan on September 6. Other victims included a businessman, a reputed crime figure and a senior member of the influential Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans. The killings raised widespread concerns about the situation with crime and rule of law in Armenia. A lack of progress in the ongoing investigations into those crimes is only adding to the concerns.

Mahtesian complained that the inquiries are seriously hampered by what he saw as a conspiracy of silence. He said although most of the killings were committed in broad daylight, virtually no eyewitnesses have come forward to help the police track down their perpetrators.

But as some lawmakers pointed out during Thursday’s hearings, this only shows the extent of public district in the Armenian law-enforcement agencies. “If a citizen wants to help the police, you know the situation they will find themselves in: they will be unprotected by the police and vulnerable to underworld retribution,” Samvel Nikoyan of the governing Republican Party told Mahtesian.

(Photolur photo: Ararat Mahtesian.)
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