Businessman Ruben Hayrapetian faced more street protests on Wednesday despite his decision to resign from the Armenian parliament in response to a public uproar sparked by deadly violence at a restaurant belonging to him.
Hundreds of activists gathered outside the parliament building in Yerevan to demand that Hayrapetian also step down as chairman of the Armenian Football Federation and be declared a suspect in a criminal investigation into the violent death of military doctor Vahe Avetian.
The protest coincided with a visit to the National Assembly by European Union President Herman Van Rompuy. The crowd chanted “Shame!” as Van Rompuy was greeted by parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian outside the main entrance to the building.
It then a blocked a street adjacent to the National Assembly compound. That was followed by a brief scuffle with riot police.
Hayrapetian, who is affiliated with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), announced his resignation late on Tuesday. In a statement, he said he feels moral responsibility for the doctor’s brutal beating by security guards of his Harsnakar restaurant.
Senior HHK lawmakers, who have defended the tycoon until now, praised the move. “Ruben Hayrapetian took a responsible political step,” said Davit Harutiunian, chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs. “In civilized countries it is customary to bear political responsibility [for such incidents,] which doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is guilty.”
The protesters were far from satisfied, however. “If everything is forgotten, [Hayrapetian] will continue to behave in the same way,” one young woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after they marched to the Office of the Prosecutor-General and held a rally there.
Speakers at the rally demanded the dismantling of what they described as a “criminal-oligarchic system” governing Armenia. “Ruben Hayrapetian is only one element of that criminal-oligarchic system,” one of them said. “If state bodies do not accept our demand we will consider all of them guilty of what happened at Harsnakar.”
“The oligarchy must be destroyed in Armenia,” Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken deputy from the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), told the crowd.
“With Hayrapetian’s resignation the regime has stepped back and you deserve credit for that,” said Levon Zurabian, another HAK parliamentarian. “But we must go to the end and make sure that all guilty individuals, including Ruben Hayrapetian and his sponsors, are prosecuted.”
Zurabian announced that the parliamentary factions of the HAK and three other opposition groups have jointly demanded that speaker Abrahamian organize parliamentary hearings on the Harsnakar violence.
Armen Rustamian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation, confirmed the information. He said law-enforcement officials investigating the June 17 incident must testify before parliamentarians.
“The main concern is that something may again be covered up,” Rustamian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The best way to prevent that is to ensure transparent processes.”
“We must put an end to this atmosphere of impunity and for that purpose the National Assembly needs to have an instrument to intervene, play a role, oversee and take care of the public’s demands. The National Assembly is not playing that role today,” he said.
Abrahamian did not immediately react to the demand. The HHK’s Harutiunian said he is ready to support such hearings if investigators are not required to breach “the secrecy of the probe” and if the opposition promises not to “politicize” them.