By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The leadership of Armenia’s parliament accused police on Wednesday of illegally persecuting a pro-government lawmaker who claims to be harassed by the authorities for backing residents of downtown Yerevan controversially evicted from their now demolished homes.
Gagik Avetian of the governing Orinats Yerkir Party is among a handful of lawmakers loyal to President Robert Kocharian who refused to withdraw support for an opposition appeal to the Constitutional Court which challenged the legality of the ongoing redevelopment in the city center. Officers from the Sixth Directorate of the Armenian police, which is tasked with combating organized crime and terrorism, accused Avetian and one of his acquaintances of engaging in “illegal entrepreneurial activity” after searching their Yerevan apartments on Tuesday.
A police statement said they found large quantities of automobile parts stashed there. It said the feared police unit is now “preparing materials in connection with that fact” and may formally bring criminal charges against the two men.
In an angry speech at the National Assembly, Avetian condemned the police actions as illegal, saying that law-enforcement officers broke into his home without a court warrant. The lawmaker insisted that he legally traded in car parts until being elected to parliament on the Orinats Yerkir ticket in May 2003 and has not done business since then. The goods found by the police were left over from his past commercial activities, he said.
Artur Baghdasarian, the parliament speaker and chairman of Orinats Yerkir, likewise charged that the police actions violated several provisions of Armenia’s constitution and other laws. “On behalf of myself and the leadership of the National Assembly I would like to express concern and indignation at the incident involving deputy Gagik Avetian,” he declared on the parliament floor.
“We believe that this is an additional signal for further ascertaining laws of the Republic of Armenia [dealing with human and civil rights]. We believe that the unfounded persecution of the deputy must be discontinued immediately,” Baghdasarian said, adding that the parliament committee on defense and security should investigate the scandal. Incidentally, the committee is headed by another Orinats Yerkir leader, Mher Shahgeldian.
Speaking to RFE/RL late Wednesday, Avetian claimed that the police raid was the result of his refusal to withdraw his signature from the opposition petition to the Constitutional Court. “That is the main reason for their actions,” he said. “I am being persecuted for my political attitudes. After all, the Sixth Directorate is supposed to fight against organized crime, not small entrepreneurs.”
The opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance appealed to the Constitutional Court on February 7 after enlisting the support of 32 parliament deputies -- more than the legal minimum of 27 signatures. The signatories urged the country’s highest judicial body to declare the redevelopment and resulting mass evictions illegal. They cited a constitutional provision stipulating that private property in Armenia can be taken away only in “exceptional cases defined by law.” The construction process, however, has been regulated by government decisions only.
The planned court hearings on the case were abruptly cancelled on February 21 after six pro-government lawmakers renounced their signatures under strong government pressure. Avetian and several other deputies affiliated with the pro-Kocharian parliament majority refused to cave in.
(Photolur photo: Artur Baghdasarian.)