Fotolur photo: Azniv Chizmechian, director of the private Abovian television who was reportedly assaulted on August 24.
By Karine Kalantarian and Armen Zakarian
The Armenian authorities promised on Friday to release early next week findings of a preliminary inquiry into the reported attack on the managers of an independent television in a city near Yerevan, blamed on the local government chief.
The owner and executive director of the TV company in Abovian claim to have been beaten up on August 24 by a group of young men sent by Mayor Karo Israelian.
“I don’t want to jump into conclusions because law-enforcement agencies are now dealing with the matter,” Minister For Local Government Hovik Abrahamian told RFE/RL. “By Monday we will have accurate and objective information and will be prepared to make it available to the public.”
Police and prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into the incident on Tuesday and have not yet charged anybody. The director of the Abovian TV, Azniv Chizmechian, says the proceedings were launched only after she lodged a complaint with the interior ministry in Yerevan. According to her, Abovian’s municipal police failed to take any action.
Chizmechian on Friday reiterated claims that the attack on her and the channel’s founder, Artashes Mehrabian, was ordered by Israelian. “I believe that Mayor Israelian was behind our beating because on many occasions he tried to block our coverage of his subordinate agencies and demanded that he screen our reports before they were broadcast,” she told a news conference in Yerevan.
Reports from Abovian said that Mehrabian was dragged out of the building and badly beaten by the thugs. Chizmechian is said to have been repeatedly hit in the head while she tried to stop the beating. She claims that Israelian afterwards insulted and threatened her and Mehrabian in the presence of local police officers.
The mayor has sharply denied the allegations. But speaking on state television this week, he acknowledged his unhappiness with Abovian TV’s coverage of municipal affairs, accusing the channel of having links with his political opponents.
However, the mayor’s assurances were dismissed by several Armenian media associations. They are expected to issue a joint statement defending the embattled channel. “We must stand by our hard-won freedom of speech because if this [attack] becomes a precedent, we will face more trouble during the upcoming elections,” said Astghik Gevorgian, chairwoman of the Armenian Union of Journalists.
The reported violence in Abovian came amid domestic and international concerns about press freedom in Armenia that were engendered by the politically charged closure last April of the country’s main independent TV station, A1+.
Underscoring those concerns, senior Yerevan-based diplomats from several European Union member states visited on Thursday Abovian where they met with the local television staff and Israelian. The head of the Armenia office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Roy Reeve, was also among them. The OSCE office said the diplomats sought to collect “first-hand information” about the incident and might issue a joint statement as a result.
The extraordinary move may be a sign of the Western embassies’ distrust in the ongoing official probe of the attack.
It is not the first scandal involving Abovian’s mayor. In June, a local court ordered Israelian to “publicly apologize” to members of a non-governmental organization for insulting and slandering them in televised comments broadcast by the local independent channel. The decision was upheld by the Review Court in Yerevan this month. Israelian appealed to the higher Court of Appeals.