The Armenian government dismissed on Thursday Suren Khachatrian, the governor of the southeastern Syunik province notorious for violent conduct.
The government attributed the move to Khachatrian’s resignation tendered ahead of a weekly meeting of Prime Minister Karen Karapetian’s cabinet. Khachatrian refused to talk to journalists before and after the meeting attended by him.
As recently as last week, the controversial governor denied media reports that the new prime minister, who was appointed on September 13, wants to fire him. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), he also said he has no plans to step down.
Khachatrian was already sacked in the wake of a June 2013 shootout outside his villa in Goris, a town in Syunik, which left a local businessman, Avetik Budaghian, dead.
Budaghian and his brother Artak, an army colonel, clashed with Khachatrian’s sons and bodyguards in disputed circumstances. Artak Budaghian was seriously wounded in the shootout.
Khachatrian’s 20-year-old son Tigran and one of the bodyguards were arrested and charged with murder. But they were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing, with law-enforcement authorities saying that the gunshots fired by them constituted legitimate self-defense.
Suren Khachatrian was reinstated as governor in September 2014. He retained his post even after his son was again arrested in July 2015 in connection with a brutal beating of two men outside Goris. Tigran Khachatrian was set free two months later.
Suren Khachatrian, better known to the public as “Liska,” has held sway in Goris and nearby villages ever since the early 1990s. Independent media have long implicated him and his relatives in violent attacks on local business rivals as well as government critics. Khachatrian, who was first appointed provincial governor in 2004, has always denied involvement in such incidents.
Official results of Armenian elections held over the past decade have shown President Serzh Sarkisian and the ruling Republican Party winning more votes in Syunik than in any other part of the country. Critics say this explains why Khachatrian retained his job for so long.
Khachatrian is widely expected to be replaced by Vahe Hakobian, the chief executive of the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine, Armenia’s largest mining company based in Syunik.
Immediately after Khachatrian’s resignation was formally accepted, the Armenian minister for local government, Davit Lokian, suggested that the government discuss Hakobian’s appointment. The chief of the government staff, Davit Lokian, objected, saying that the cabinet can do that only after the resignation is formally confirmed by President Sarkisian.
“Do not rush, Mr. Lokian,” Karapetian said, smiling. “This is the instruction that I received,” the minister replied without elaborating.