Four men were arrested on Friday on suspicion of attempting to assassinate Suren Khachatrian, the governor of Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province who has long been notorious for violent conduct.
The National Security Service (NSS) service said the arrests were made in connection with the reported May 20 shooting attack on a car carrying Khachatrian.
Khachatrian, his driver and assistant claimed to have come under fire on the road connecting the provincial capital Kapan to Goris, the governor’s hometown also located in Syunik. None of them was hurt, even though photographs released by law-enforcement authorities showed their car riddled with bullets.
In a statement, the NSS said its officers have found a “large quantity” of weapons, including a Kalashnikov rifle, in the homes belonging to the arrested men. It said forensic experts are now trying to establish whether that rifle was used in “the murder attempt.”
One of the suspects is Ara Budaghian, a younger brother of Avetik Budaghian, a Goris businessman who was shot dead outside Khachatrian’s villa in June 2013. Avetik died when he and his second brother, Artak, bitterly argued there with the governor’s son, Tigran Khachatrian, and bodyguards in still unclear circumstances. Artak, who is an army colonel, was seriously wounded in that incident.
Tigran and one of the bodyguards were arrested in the following days only to be cleared of murder charges and set free two months later. Law-enforcement authorities said the gunshots fired by them constituted legitimate self-defense.
Despite denying any involvement, Suren Khachatrian was sacked in the wake of the 2013 shootings. But he was reinstated as Syunik governor a year later.
It was not immediately clear whether Ara Budaghian and the three other detained men admitted to the alleged murder attempt. None of them was formally charged as of Friday evening.
The Armenian authorities’ handling of the 2013 shootings probe reinforced a widely held belief in Armenia that Khachatrian and his family enjoy impunity because of their staunch loyalty President Serzh Sarkisian.
The governor’s car came under fire more than two weeks after a brutal attack on two other brothers living in Goris. One of them suffered a broken nose while the other lost vision in one eye. The victims say that their attackers were led by Tigran Khachatrian.
The governor’s son so far been questioned only as a “witness” in the high-profile case. Law-enforcement authorities have levelled criminal charges against five other men instead. Among them is Suren Khachatrian’s brother Seyran and nephew Mayis.
Mayis went on the run after being formally charged last month. He was convicted of killing a Goris man and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2004. He served only half of the sentence as President Sarkisian pardoned him in 2010.