A notorious parliament deputy affiliated with President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has become embroiled in another scandal after threatening to beat up a journalist who asked him for comment.
The lawmaker, Mher Sedrakian, reacted furiously when he was approached by Mher Arshakian, a journalist with the independent TV station A1+, in the National Assembly on Wednesday. Video of the incident released by A1+ shows Sedrakian threatening to “break your jaw” and telling Arshakian to “get the hell out.”
The video triggered a media uproar, with dozens of reporters signing a letter to parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian demanding that he bring Sedrakian to task. Deputy speaker Eduard Sharmazanov and several other senior HHK figures were quick to apologize to the journalist for the incident.
Sedrakian disavowed those apologies, however. “I won’t apologize,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I don’t consider myself guilty. My self-esteem is above everything else.”
He claimed that he “spoke a bit rudely” with the A1+ correspondent because the latter tried to “shove his microphone into my mouth.” Sedrakian, who has long been linked with politically motivated and other violence, also said that he would have beaten up Arshakian had he not been a journalist.
Responding to the outcry, speaker Abrahamian received Arshakian on Thursday to discuss the embarrassing incident. “The National Assembly chairman expressed regret in connection with the incident and said, ‘He’s a human being, perhaps you didn’t approach him properly or perhaps something had happened between you,’” Arshakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I insisted that nothing could have happened between us.”
In the journalist’s words, while claiming that the pro-government deputy did not mean to offend him, Abrahamian suggested that he ask the parliament’s Ethics Committee to investigate the incident. He said he will follow the speaker’s advice.
A wealthy businessman regarded as a crime figure by opposition politicians and some media, Sedrakian had for many years worked as mayor of Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district before being elected to the National Assembly on the HHK ticket in May. The 61-year still holds sway in the area, controlling many local businesses and strongly influencing election results.
Press reports have repeatedly implicated him in violent attacks on opposition activists and journalists as well as vote rigging. In particular, Sedrakian was accused of possibly having a hand in the August 2008 assault on a correspondent for the pro-opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak.” The reporter, Lusine Barseghian, was beaten up by unknown men following a series of articles that scrutinized the allegedly illicit activities of Sedrakian and other influential individuals close to the government.
While acknowledging that he was angered by Barseghian’s articles, Sedrakian strongly denied any involvement in the attack. “I don’t beat women or dead persons. I would just shave that girl’s hair and that would be it,” he said at the time.
Earlier this month, some media outlets claimed that Sedrakian’s bodyguards brutally beat up two men in a dispute at a gas station in Erebuni. The businessman denied those reports.
The alleged violence came amid a growing civic movement in Armenia against what many see as impunity enjoyed by government-linked wealthy individuals and their notoriously violent bodyguards. Many of those individuals hold parliament seats.
Hundreds of people staged a series of demonstrations in Yerevan earlier this year after security guards beat to death a man at a restaurant owned by one such tycoon, Ruben Hayrapetian. The latter was forced to resign his parliament seat this summer.
Speaking at a weekend congress of the HHK in Yerevan, President Sarkisian said his administration has “rejected outright the malicious practice of using force against journalists” and will ensure that all Armenians are equal before the law. “I assure you that the new generation of Armenian citizens will learn about impunity only from their parent’s memories,” he declared.