Six men working for one of Armenia’s wealthiest entrepreneurs went on trial on Thursday, accused of beating to death a military doctor at a Yerevan restaurant in an incident that shocked the nation.
The arrested defendants, officially listed as security guards and other employees of the Harsnakar restaurant, are facing lengthy prison sentences on three counts of assault.
They stand accused of attacking the doctor, Vahe Avetian, and several of his friends and colleagues in a violent dispute on June 17. Avetian died of severe head injuries in hospital about two weeks later. Two other army medics were also seriously injured and hospitalized.
A district court in Yerevan began the trial following a criminal investigation conducted by the Armenian police and strongly criticized by Avetian’s family and its lawyers. The latter claim that investigators deliberately glossed over important facts to clear Harsnakar’s government-linked owner, Ruben Hayrapetian, of any involvement in the violence. The victim’s father, Garnik Avetian, boycotted the opening session of the trial in protest.
The first court hearing was delayed by a bitter argument between court guards and the three Avetian family lawyers. The attorneys refused to be searched at the entrance to the court building, saying that police officers attending the trial did not go through similar security checks. Davit Harutiunian, the 30-year-old presiding judge, eventually ordered the guards to let them in without a search.
A lawyer for one of the accused men, Norayr Hayrapetian, also criticized the police inquiry and demanded the replacement of one of the trial prosecutors. The lawyer, Yerem Sargsian, claimed that his client’s arrest was carried out with serious procedural violations.
He also complained that investigators refused to conduct a second and more detailed examination of the victim’s body to determine which of the defendants caused his death. The indictment that will be read out in the court does not clarify this, placing equal blame on all suspects.
The Harsnakar incident caused a public uproar in Armenia. Hundreds of civic activists and other citizens demonstrated outside the restaurant this summer to protest against what they see as impunity enjoyed by government-linked “oligarchs” and their bodyguards.
The outcry forced Hayrapetian to resign as member of the Armenian parliament and apologize to Avetian’s family. However, the controversial tycoon strongly denies any involvement in the brutal beating.