By Ruzanna Stepanian
Police said on Monday they are investigating claims by a well-known government critic that he was kidnapped and badly beaten by bodyguards of Gagik Tsarukian for publicly scorning Armenia’s reputedly wealthiest businessman close to President Robert Kocharian.
Shahen Petrosian, a former head of the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department, was reportedly beaten unconscious on Thursday night following an argument with Tsarukian supporters in a rock club in downtown Yerevan. Petrosian says he infuriated them by suggesting sarcastically that the club owners post pictures of Dodi Gago, Tsarukian’s nickname commonly used by many Armenians. In his words, three well-built men with shaven heads arrived at the nightspot and forced him out shortly afterwards.
“They hit me in the street, pushed me into their car, and then beat inside it for about two hours,” Petrosian told RFE/RL, adding that he was apparently unconscious when they dumped him on a deserted roadside just outside the city center.
Petrosian, whose bruised face bore the traces of severe beating, claimed that the attackers were led by Tsarukian’s chief bodyguard whom journalists known his first name, Edo. “I have seen their pictures on the Internet,” he said.
Tsarukian’s intimidating security guards have been implicated in recent years in mafia-style shootouts, beatings of opposition politicians and other violent incidents that sparked a public resonance. However, the tycoon strongly denied involvement in the attack as he briefly spoke to RFE/RL during a campaign rally in Yerevan staged by his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). He said Petrosian quarreled in the club with young Diaspora Armenians who have no connection with him.
Petrosian, who is a supporter of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and highly critical of Kocharian, lodged a formal complaint with the Armenian police on Saturday. A spokesman said the national Police Service is looking into the allegations and has yet to decide whether to launch criminal proceedings in connection with the incident.
Tsarukian, whose party is tipped to make a strong showing in the May 12 elections, is known to take offense from being referred to as Dodi Gago. The precise meaning and origin of the unflattering nickname is a matter of contention.
Nonetheless, Petrosian defended his public use of the nickname. “He used to be proud of his nickname,” he said. “Why he is renouncing his heritage now? … This is how 99.9 percent of Armenians call him.”
(Photolur photo: Gagik Tsarukian.)