Law-enforcement authorities have decided to press criminal charges against a senior Armenian army officer who was seriously wounded outside the home of a regional governor last month in a gunfight that left his brother dead.
Colonel Artak Budaghian was formally charged with assault late on Tuesday by military officials investigating the June 1 incident in Goris, a town in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province. He was not taken into custody.
Budaghian and his brother Avetik, a local businessman, clashed with relatives and bodyguards of then Syunik Governor Suren Khachatrian in still unclear circumstances. Avetik Budaghian was shot dead. One of the bodyguards and a son of Khachatrian were arrested on charges of murder and illegal arms possession in the following days.
Khachatrian, who has a long history of violent conduct, claims to have slept in his Goris villa as the two groups of armed exchanged gunfire at its doorstep. Despite his claims of innocence, the longtime governor was forced to step down on June 5.
Colonel Budaghian, who commands an army unit stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh, refused to comment on his prosecution. But his lawyer, Hayk Alumian, strongly condemned the development, saying that the accusation leveled against his client is “fabricated and baseless.” He said military investigators are thereby trying to “mitigate the guilt of the other side.”
Alumian similarly cried foul when Armenia’s chief military prosecutor, Gevorg Kostanian, said shortly after the shooting that the Budaghian brothers’ actions constituted an “armed attack” on the governor’s private residence. The lawyer accused military prosecutors of “helping” the arrested suspects.
“The incident took place in the street, and not in the house,” Alumian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The incident was not provoked by my client and his slain brother. They themselves came under attack.”
The Goris shootout took place just hours after Khachatrian hosted a dinner for several regional dignitaries, including the Budaghian brothers. He reportedly argued with Avetik Budaghian during that party.
The investigators said in their formal indictment of Artak Budaghian that the officer rushed to Khachatrian’s villa and threatened to kill its residents after being told that his brother was beaten up in the governor’s car. They gave no further details.