By Astghik Bedevian
A prominent Armenian investigative journalist known for his stories exposing government corruption became the target of a violent attack, which he believes is connected with his reporting.
Edik Baghdasarian, who heads the Armenian Association of Investigative Journalists and runs a Yerevan-based online magazine, Hetq, left his office in downtown Yerevan at about 8 p.m. Monday and shortly was ambushed and beaten by three unknown assailants as he was going to get into his car parked in the street, according to his own account.
Baghdasarian said the attack was an unprovoked one and the assailants did not demand anything particular from him.
“Right near the car two people attacked me and began to land heavy blows. I retaliated and we were exchanging blows. I punched one of them and since I was holding a mobile phone in my hand at that moment, the phone now has blood stains on it, presumably the blood of one of the attackers,” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL.
Then, according to Baghdasarian, a third person hit him on the head from behind, presumably with a rock or some other solid object, after which, the journalist says, he fainted.
Eventually, the three of the attackers took to flight after a security worker from a nearby construction site alerted by the squabble fired a shot into the air.
An ambulance service then administered first aid to Baghdasarian on the spot and the journalist was hospitalized with a head injury. Doctors later said the injuries were not life threatening.
Baghdasarian also says he lost a computer disc with several investigative stories that he planned for publication online. The journalist says he saw the face of at least one assailant and could recognize that person if he saw him again.
A criminal case has been initiated in connection with the incident under article 113 of the Criminal Code (inflicting bodily harm of medium gravity by a group of persons). An inquiry was ongoing, police officials said.
Baghdasarian, 49, is an award-winning independent journalist known for his in-depth investigative reporting on topics ranging from politics to crime and corruption. In his latest series of investigative reports, Baghdasarian exposed cases of abuse and corruption in Armenia’s mining industry.
The latest attack became the seventh case of violence used against a media representative in Armenia this year. In August, the then acting chief of RFE/RL’s Yerevan bureau Hrach Melkumian also became a victim of an apparently politically motivated attack.
The rise in violence against media in 2008 has been slammed by local and international media watchdogs and human rights groups throughout the year.
However, none of the crimes have been revealed and no one has been punished for either organizing or committing those attacks against journalists.
The attack against Baghdasarian was condemned by Armenia’s main opposition alliance.
In a statement the Armenian National Congress led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, in particular, said: “This outrageous attack is more proof that the criminal regime has declared war on free speech.”
President Serzh Sarkisian’s spokesman also described the violence against the journalist as “unacceptable” and “condemnable”.
“The president of the republic has given strict instructions to law-enforcement bodies to reveal the circumstances of the case and find those responsible for the attack,” Samvel Farmanian said in a statement.
Later in the day, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian visited Baghdasarian at the hospital.
He expressed his concern over the attack against a journalist.
“The investigation is on and we are convinced that those responsible will be found within a short period of time,” Tigran Sarkisian told reporters.