By Ruzanna Stepanian
A parliament deputy from the governing Republican Party (HHK) claimed on Wednesday that allegations about the growing role of “criminal elements” in Armenia’s political life are part of a “smear campaign” waged against the HHK.
“The politicization of criminal activity and its association with one political force pursues a far-reaching political goal,” said Armen Ashotian. “It’s just a smear campaign directed against a phenomenon that doesn’t exist in reality.”
“The fight against political criminal elements will be pointless because there are no such elements, neither in the Republican Party, nor outside it,” he said, commenting on opposition calls for the creation of an “anti-criminal front” of pro-democracy parties and civic groups.
The possibility of setting up such a grouping was discussed by representatives of a dozen opposition parties in a meeting on Monday. By “criminal elements” the oppositionists as well as some political commentators and journalists usually mean wealthy and influential individuals with close government connections. A number of such men have recently joined the ambitious Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian in becoming senior members of the HHK.
Sarkisian has defended them against opposition and media attacks, saying that their lack of education and notorious nicknames must not be construed as proof of their underworld connections. Ashotian agreed with this assertion at a roundtable discussion in Yerevan, challenging the opposition to cite concrete facts of criminal presence in the HHK. The Republicans are under attack because “we are now the strongest party and we have the greatest ambitions,” he said.
Some of the journalists present at the discussion responded by naming HHK figures with questionable reputations such as Surik Khachatrian, governor of the southeastern Syunik region. Khachatrian, better known as “Liska,” has long been accused of leading a mobster clan that holds sway in the area. His close relatives have repeatedly been implicated in serious crimes reported from there.
A reporter also pointed to Ruben Hayrapetian, a wealthy businessman and one of the HHK’s new recruits. According to recent newspaper reports, Hayrapetian, nicknamed “German Rubo,” stopped and beat up a motorist for overtaking his limousine in central Yerevan. The businessman, who also heads the Armenian Football Federation, did not deny the claims.
(Photolur photo: Armen Ashotian.)