Relatives of Suren Khachatrian, a former provincial governor notorious for violent conduct, have been implicated in yet another brutal assault reported in Goris, a town in southeastern Armenia that has long been regarded as their extended family’s fiefdom.
According to the Armenian police, media and local residents, Khachatrian’s nephew Eyner reportedly beat up two other young men after breaking into their Goris house together with a dozen friends late on Sunday.
“They stabbed Gor Harutiunian and broke his brother Artur’s leg,” another local man, who did not want to be identified, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday.
Eyner Khachatrian was questioned by the local police after the incident but was not arrested and faced no criminal charges as of Tuesday evening. A national police spokesman in Yerevan insisted that investigators believe he is guilty of violent conduct.
The 23-year-old Gor Harutiunian claimed, however, that neither he nor his older brother was beaten up. He said he was only “pushed” by Khachatrian in a “minor argument” resulting from his failure to repay a debt to Eynar.
“What the media has reported is not true,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) from Goris. “We are not so inept as to be beaten up.”
Harutiunian’s mother Sofia also declined to accuse the ex-governor’s nephew, who was convicted of murder in 2004, of attacking her sons. “I wasn’t at home and didn’t see anything,” she said by phone. “When I came home everything was over.” “They say there was a brawl, but I didn’t see anything,” she claimed.
Human rights activists in Yerevan were unconvinced by these denials, speaking of a lingering atmosphere of fear reigning in and around Goris. “This is not the first case related to Surik Khachatrian where victims say or are forced to say that they were not attacked,” said Vartan Harutiunian, a veteran campaigner. “Goris is a small town and victims have to do that, probably to save their or their loved ones’ lives.”
Khachatrian, better known as “Liska,” held sway in Goris area even before he was appointed governor of the surrounding Syunik province in 2004. Independent media outlets have long implicated him and his relatives in violent attacks on local business rivals as well as government critics, including a Syunik newspaper editor whose car was set on fire in 2005. The controversial governor has always denied involvement in such incidents and denounced opposition politicians and pro-opposition media for branding him a crime figure.
The latest incident involving his nephew happened almost a year after a deadly shootout outside his luxury villa in Goris. Khachatrian’s son Tigran and bodyguards clashed there with Avetik Budaghian, a 43-year-old local businessman, and his brother Artak for still unclear reasons. Avetik was shot dead while Artak, who is an Armenian army colonel, seriously wounded in the incident that led to Suren Khachatrian’s sacking by the Armenian government.
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 fatal gunshots fired by them constituted legitimate self-defense.
Human rights activists and government critics say their release highlighted impunity enjoyed by government-linked individuals and their cronies and relatives. They attribute it to the fact that President Serzh Sarkisian relies heavily on individuals like Khachatrian in ensuring favorable results for himself and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in various elections.
Khachatrian’s enduring influence in Goris has again come to the fore during an ongoing campaign for a mayoral election that will be held in the town on June 8. One of his local protégés running for the post was initially challenged by three other candidates, among them the late Budaghian’s second brother, Ara. All three challengers pulled out of the mayoral race earlier this month.
Opposition politicians believe that they were bullied by Khachatrian and/or his powerful backers in Yerevan. The ex-governor has denied exerting any pressure on them, however.