An Armenian opposition activist treated for severe injuries in a Yerevan hospital claimed on Tuesday that one of the men who assaulted him works for Ruben Hayrapetian, a notoriously violent businessman linked to the government.
Smbat Hakobian was injured in the head and suffered broken ribs that damaged his lungs shortly after taking part in an anti-government demonstration organized by a small nationalist party. He is a senior member of the Alliance of Freedom Fighters, a group uniting Armenian veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war opposed to the government.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) from his hospital bed, Hakobian said he recognized one of his “six or seven” attackers. “I know that guy as Tigran, a bodyguard of Ruben Hayrapetian,” he said. “Tigran grabbed my neck and said: ‘We’ll now explain what we are going to do with you.’ And they started hitting me.”
Hakobian claimed that he had a bitter “argument” with Hayrapetian when he took part in this summer’s street protests in Yerevan against a controversial rise in electricity prices. He said the tycoon, who leads the Football Federation of Armenia, threatened him with violence.
A spokesman for the Armenian police said later in the day that the alleged bodyguard named by Hakobian has been questioned at a police station in Yerevan. The man was apparently not arrested or charged after the interrogation.
Hayrapetian, meanwhile, strongly denied any involvement in the assault, calling Hakobian a “well-known liar” and saying that none of his bodyguards is called Tigran. “He is slandering me,” he told News.am.
A staunch backer of President Serzh Sarkisian, Hayrapetian has a long history of reportedly violent behavior. Armenian opposition groups have accused him in the past of attacking and bullying their activists in Yerevan’s northern Avan suburb, his de facto fiefdom.
As recently as last month Hayrapetian admitted beating up another businessman in a dispute related to unpaid debts incurred by the latter’s company. Prosecutors decided not to press charges against the influential “oligarch,” citing his “reconciliation” with the injured victim.
The attack on Hakobian was strongly condemned by the Alliance of Freedom Fighters and other war veterans. Scores of them gathered outside Yerevan’s Surb Grigor Lusavorich Hospital to show their solidarity with the activist. Many of them accused the government of orchestrating the assault. Some gave law-enforcement authorities until Wednesday morning to identify and arrest his attackers or face unspecified “drastic actions.”
Three other leaders of the Alliance of Freedom Fighters were beaten up in Yerevan late last year after actively participating in anti-government rallies organized by mainstream opposition parties. Nobody has been prosecuted in connection with those incidents.
One of those, Manvel Yeghiazarian, insisted on Tuesday that the latest attack will not be solved either. “It’s not that law-enforcement bodies are powerless,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “They just don’t want to solve these cases because … they are in bed with the regime.”