By Karine Kalantarian and Astghik Bedevian
A senior employee of Armenia’s state television and radio on Tuesday blamed a pro-government parliamentarian notorious for reportedly violent conduct for an attack on a Yerevan café that left one of his friends dead.
Artur Sahakian, who runs the news service of the Armenian Public Radio and anchors a talk show on Public TV, also alleged a high-level police cover-up of the mysterious incident that occurred on September 21.
According to news reports, a group of well-built men burst into the café belonging to Sahakian and tried to catch the prominent journalist. The latter managed to flee, but two of his friends present there were badly beaten up. One of them died in hospital on Monday.
The police announced later on Monday that a man turned himself in on September 22 to claim responsibility for the beatings. A police statement said he was arrested and charged with “hooliganism” three days later.
Sources told RFE/RL that two more persons were arrested in connection with the incident in the following days. The police declined to confirm this, though.
The police statement implicitly linked the incident to embarrassing allegations made against Sahakian by one of his female acquaintances. It said the woman, whom newspapers identified as Marina Madatian, claims that Sahakian attempted to rape her as he drove her back to Yerevan from a village party late on September 20. Madatian says he dropped her off after she managed to phone friends and tell them about the alleged assault, according to the police.
In an interview with the “Aravot” daily, Sahakian denied the allegations and claimed that the attackers were the bodyguards of Levon Sargsian, a controversial parliament deputy from the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). But he did not say why Sargsian, better known as “Alraghatsi Lyov,” would go after him. Sahakian declined to be interviewed by RFE/RL.
Other newspapers said on Tuesday that Madatian is a girlfriend of Sargsian, suggesting that the latter was infuriated by her allegations and wanted to punish the journalist.
“Unless the butcher Lyov and his gang are arrested, there will be more crimes,” Sahakian told “Aravot.” He also accused the police of complicity in the deadly beating, saying that police officers arrived at the café more than one hour after the attack.
Sargsian could not be reached for comment and was absent from the parliament on Tuesday. Aides said that he is “not in town.”
Sargsian has long been branded a crime figure by opposition politicians and newspapers critical of Armenia’s leadership. They have repeatedly implicated the 40-year-old government loyalist in electoral fraud and violent attacks on opposition activists in Yerevan’s Arabkir district, from which he was reelected to the parliament last year.
In particular, Sargsian allegedly led a group of men who attacked opposition proxies and disrupted a vote recount in an Arabkir polling station following the disputed presidential election of February 19. The disruption was witnessed and documented by U.S. election observers.
“I don’t think Levon Sargsian could have had a hand in what happened [on September 21,]” said Galust Sahakian, a fellow HHK lawmaker. He dismissed the allegations against his colleague as an attempt to discredit the ruling party.
But another pro-government deputy, Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), expressed serious concern at the incident and said she believes the state TV employee is not guilty of any wrongdoing. Zohrabian, herself a former journalist, said she has raised her concerns with the chief of the national police, Alik Sargsian (no relation to Levon). “The police chief assured me that he will do everything to solve the case,” she told RFE/RL.
Armen Harutiunian, Armenia’ human rights ombudsman, appeared skeptical about such assurances. “We know very well that in such cases someone goes to the police, confesses to the crime, spends one or two years in prison, and then walks free after the dust settles,” he told RFE/RL. “This case must be very seriously and thoroughly investigated. We must put an end to lawlessness.”
(Photolur photo: Levon Sargsian flanked by bodyguards.)