A wealthy pro-government parliamentarian was appointed as governor of Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province on Wednesday, replacing a notorious official who resigned last month following a deadly shooting near his residence.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet formalized Vahe Hakobian’s appointment one week after it was approved and announced by the leadership of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
Hakobian, 36, was reelected to the Armenian parliament on the HHK ticket from a Syunik constituency last year. His father Maksim is the chief executive and a minority shareholder in Armenia’s largest mining company located in the mountainous region bordering Iran.
“I am really delighted to serve as governor of Syunik,” Hakobian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said his family’s extensive business interests will not influence his work.
Hakobian’s controversial predecessor, Suren Khachatrian, was forced to quit last month amid an outcry caused by a deadly gunfight outside his house in Goris, a major town in Syunik. Khachatrian’s son Tigran and one of his bodyguards are currently under arrest on murder charges.
Khachatrian, who is better known in Armenia with his “Liska” nickname, has held sway in Goris and nearby villages ever since the early 1990s. Independent media outlets have long implicated him and his relatives in violent attacks on local business rivals as well as government critics.
The controversial governor has always denied involvement in such incidents and denounced opposition politicians and pro-opposition media for branding him a crime figure.
Hakobian disagreed with a widely held belief that Khachatrian created an atmosphere of fear in Syunik during his decade-long tenure. He only acknowledged unspecified “mistakes and shortcomings” in his predecessor’s work.
Hakobian was also cautious in commenting on the June 1 shooting in Goris. “Such unfortunate incidents must not take place,” he said.