By Karine Simonian in Vanadzor and Anna Saghabalian
Law-enforcement bodies investigating the recent murder of a senior prosecutor are facing embarrassing allegations that they have mistreated innocent people in a bid to blame the crime on the mayor of the northern Armenian town of Vanadzor.
They have insisted until now that nobody has been arrested or charged in connection with the August 26 shooting of Albert Ghazarian, the chief prosecutor of the Lori region, of which Vanadzor is the capital. In particular, the Office of the Prosecutor-General has denied that Friday’s arrest of a nephew of Vanadzor Mayor Samvel Darpinian was made as part of the inquiry.
Arman Darpinian was formally charged with illegal weapons ammunition possession over the weekend after police claimed to have found bullets in his car. The 24-year-old’s family strongly denied the charge, saying that police planted the incriminating evidence in the case with the aim of linking the high-profile killing to the mayor and his relatives.
It emerged this week that five employees of a Vanadzor restaurant owned by Arman Darpinian were rounded up and detained by investigators last week. One of them, restaurant manager Karen Dodoyan, spent three days in police custody before being released on Sunday. According to his mother, Gohar Poghosian, Dodoyan returned home with numerous bruises on his body and was taken to hospital in Yerevan on Monday after being diagnosed with brain concussion.
“My boy is now under doctors’ control,” Poghosian told RFE/RL. “He was injected sedatives to relax.”
Poghosian claimed that law-enforcement officers beat up her son in order to force him to give incriminating testimony against Darpinian. They specifically wanted him to testify that the arrested restaurant owner declared the day after the prosecutor’s murder that “the job has been done,” she said.
Satenik, a restaurant waitress, spent a whole day at the Lori prosecutor’s office last week and claims to have been repeatedly hit and verbally abused by interrogators. “One of the investigators said, ‘You must give a testimony that we want.’ I said, ‘How I can lie about that person?’” she told RFE/RL.
She said they threatened to imprison her and tried to force her to state that Darpinian celebrated the prosecutor's murder at the restaurant.
Commenting on the allegations, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General, Sona Truzian, said the law-enforcement body can not investigate them without a formal complaint from the interrogated individuals.
In the words of Mikael Danielian, a human rights campaigner who visited Vanadzor on Monday, the allegedly mistreated individuals are inclined to lodge such complaints. “Their mothers are more ready to do that because their children are scared,” he told RFE/RL.
Torture and psychological ill-treatment of criminal suspects and witnesses is believed to be commonplace in Armenia. Danielian’s Armenian Helsinki Association and other local and international watchdogs have long regarded it as the most common form of human rights violation in the country.
Samvel Darpinian was linked with Ghazarian’s murder because of his strained relationship with the late prosecutor. The Vanadzor mayor was among local government officials figuring in a embezzlement case brought by the Lori prosecutor’s office last June. They are suspected of a large-scale theft of equipment from a local sewage works which allegedly occurred during the 1990s.
Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian and other top law-enforcement officials have so far refused to say whether they believe the killing, strongly condemned by President Robert Kocharian, might have been masterminded by the mayor. The latter is a senior member of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia.
“They are trying to blame the murder on Arman and other Darpinians,” Arman Darpinian’s mother Narine insisted on Monday. “Somebody would benefit from this.”
Incidentally, Mayor Darpinian also met with Danielian in Vanadzor. “We was angry but still had a Republican Party flag flying in his courtyard,” said the human rights activist. “Who is he angry with? His own state?”
(Photo courtesy of Armenian Helsinki Association: Karen Dodoyan pictured after his release.)