By Astghik Bedevian
The mayor of a big village in southern Armenia was shot dead by unknown gunmen on Wednesday in what his relatives and friends claimed was a politically motivated killing.
Roland Mkrtchian, 60, was gunned down outside his house in the village of Nalbandian early in the morning. His grieving wife told RFE/RL that she found him dead moments after hearing two gunshots.
“We were asleep when they shouted ‘Rol! Rol!” said Soya Mkrtchian. “He got up and went out. One or two minutes later I heard the first shot. After I heard a second shot, I dressed up to go out and see what happened. I saw a car speeding away from our house.”
Senior police officers and prosecutors arrived at the scene of the shooting shortly afterwards and were still examining it late in the afternoon. Armen Yeritsian, deputy chief of the Armenian police, said they believe the two gunshots were fired from a hunting rifle, suggesting that the gunman was “not a professional.”
“We are questioning neighbors to see if they saw or heard anything,” Yeritsian told RFE/RL. “At this point we do not suspect anyone of involvement. But relevant efforts are made to collect more information.”
Mkrtchian’s friends and other local residents alleged political reasons for the killing. Some of them pointed the finger at Albert Heroyan, the recently fired regional governor, and Nahapet Gevorgian, a member of Armenia’s parliament who holds sway in the area. They have close ties with the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
According to locals, Mkrtchian had had a difficult relationship with both men ever since he left the HHK and joined the Prosperous Armenia party of businessman Gagik Tsarukian earlier this year. Mkrtchian was reelected as village mayor in July, defeating a candidate endorsed by the HHK.
One of his friends, who refused to identify himself, claimed that the vote was “very tense.” “This was a political killing,” he said. “Parliamentary elections are coming up, and he stood in their way.”
Asked whether the investigators plan to question Mkrtchian’s election challenger, Yeritsian said: “We are considering all theories.” Heroyan, for his part, declined comment.
This is not the first crime of its kind reported in Armenia in recent months. Tigran Petrosian, the mayor of Dalar, a village in the neighboring Ararat region, was shot dead, reportedly by his predecessor and rival Gegham Badalian, in broad daylight on August 30. Petrosian was affiliated with the opposition People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), while Badalian is known as a government loyalist.