President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) indicated on Monday that it will not reprimand or even criticize a controversial regional governor for assaulting a woman.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the chief HHK spokesman and a deputy parliament speaker, pointed to law-enforcement authorities’ conclusion that Surik Khachatrian’s actions did not violate the Armenian Criminal Code.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said last week that Khachatrian, who runs the southeastern Syunik province, did hit businesswoman Silva Hambardzumian at a Yerevan hotel on November 14 just days after she accused him of business-related fraud. But the SIS said the governor will not be prosecuted on “beating” charges because he did not injure Hambardzumian.
Government critics condemned the SIS stance, portraying it as further proof of impunity enjoyed by individuals close to the country’s political leadership. The opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party demanded last Wednesday that the authorities sack Khachatrian or at least make an appropriate “political evaluation” of his actions.
“If there was no crime, what political evaluation should we make?” Sharmazanov told journalists, reacting to the Zharangutyun demand.
Pressed by an RFE/RL correspondent to comment on the legitimacy of a senior state official’s recourse to violence, the vice-speaker said, “In general, we have a negative attitude to all abnormal phenomena. And on that issue I have nothing to add.”
Khachatrian, better known to Armenians with his “Liska” nickname, has long been notorious for his reportedly violent conduct in Syunik. He has been accused of attacking local business rivals as well as government critics, including a Syunik newspaper editor whose car was set on fire in 2005.
Khachatrian has always denied involvement in such incidents and denounced opposition politicians and pro-opposition media for labeling him as a crime figure. Vazgen Manukian, a former opposition leader who now heads President Sarkisian’s advisory Public Council, referred to him as an “uneducated criminal” in 2007.
Human rights campaigners and opposition politicians say he will not be punished for the latest incident because of forthcoming parliamentary elections and his ability to strongly influence their results in Syunik.
Official results of the last Armenian presidential and parliamentary elections marred by fraud allegations showed Sarkisian and his party doing better in Syunik than in any other part of the country.