By Karine Kalantarian
The Armenian police indicated on Thursday that they will not prosecute a controversial pro-government parliamentarian widely linked with an attack on a Yerevan café that left one person dead.
Andranik Babayan was beaten to death on September 21 by a group of well-built men that burst into a Yerevan café in an apparent effort to settle scores with one of its owners holding a senior position in Armenia’s state television and radio.
The well-known journalist, Artur Sahakian, fled the scene unscathed. In a September 30 interview with the “Aravot” daily, he claimed that the attackers were sent by Levon Sargsian, a businessman and parliament deputy from the governing Republican Party (HHK) with a history of reportedly violent conduct. Sahakian also alleged a high-level police cover-up of the beating that highlighted what many Armenians believe is impunity enjoyed by influential government loyalists.
The incident apparently stemmed from embarrassing allegations made against Sahakian by one of his female acquaintances. The woman, identified by newspapers 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. In her testimony to the police, Madatian said he dropped her off after she managed to phone friends and tell them about the alleged assault.
Newspaper reports described the young woman as a girlfriend of Sargsian, suggesting that the latter was infuriated by her allegations and wanted to punish the journalist. The parliament deputy, better known as “Alraghatsi Lyov,” has not appeared in public since the incident. Nor has he commented on Sahakian’s allegations against him.
The police, meanwhile, have arrested three of the alleged assailants. They have been charged with “hooliganism” and involuntary manslaughter. It is not clear if they have ties with Sargsian.
Major-General Gagik Hambartsumian, a deputy chief of the Armenian police, said on Thursday that there are “substantial discrepancies” in testimonies given by the arrested suspects and Sahakian. He said the latter was questioned as a witness but may still face prosecution if Madatian’s claims are deemed substantiated.
Sargsian was not and is unlikely to be questioned as part of the ongoing criminal investigation, Hambartsumian told a news conference. He argued that the journalist did not implicate Sargsian in the beating in his police testimony.
“We have a source of first-hand information. Would it be right to be guided by a second-hand source?” Hambartsumian said when asked about Sahakian’s claims made in the “Aravot” interview.
President Serzh Sarkisian, who personally endorsed Sargsian in the run-up to the May 2007 parliamentary elections, may well have referred to the HHK lawmaker on October 2 when he spoke of unnamed individuals who “decide that they are allowed to solve some issues on the street with their fists.”
“I explicitly declare that that is not comprehensible for me, that is not acceptable to me,” Sarkisian said in a speech in parliament. “In the Republic of Armenia nobody can feel immune to punishment, nobody can take over functions of the state.”
(Photolur photo: Levon Sargsian, left, pictured with President Serzh Sarkisian.)