By Astghik BedevianPrime Minister Andranik Markarian pledged late Wednesday to be more careful in presenting government officials and friends with firearms and effectively admitted that one of those “gifts” was used in a recent high-profile murder.
He said he asked the Armenian police to screen prospective recipients of such presents “more strictly.”
Markarian has faced embarrassing questions about his weapons-giving practices since an extraordinary crime committed in a small town near Yerevan on September 27. The mayor of Nor Hajn, Armen Keshishian, reportedly shot dead a local businessman in broad light after a bitter argument over what police describe as “illegal construction” financed by the latter.
The dead man supported Keshishian’s challenger in the local election scheduled for this Sunday. The mayor, who was close to Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), is currently under arrest pending trial. Armenian media have reported that the pistols used in this and several other crimes had been given to their perpetrators by the Armenian premier.
Markarian did not deny those reports. “We will try to make things stricter from now on,” he told reporters. “The police have already been given a corresponding instruction.”
Markarian at the same time insisted that the existing legal procedures allowing him to award handguns to citizens are not flawed. “In this country only I present weapons,” he said. “But I don’t give anyone such presents until the police check the origin of a weapon, the identity and credibility of its recipient.”
According to some press reports, there are more than 500 such recipients. President Robert Kocharian is said to have ordered law-enforcement agencies to double-check their identity and criminal records following the Nor Hajn crime.
Under Armenian law, citizens can not possess any firearms without police permission which is supposed to be given only in exceptional circumstances. The controversial prime-ministerial “gifts” appear to have been one of the easiest ways of obtaining such permissions.