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Armenian Speaker Linked With Fresh Violence In ‘Fiefdom’


Armenia -- Parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian.

Police raided a village in southern Armenia and rounded up many of its residents late Wednesday following renewed violence involving a local businessman and individuals reportedly connected with parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian, who has long held sway in the area.

The whereabouts of the businessman, Hovannes Ghazarian, and several residents of Mrgavan village detained by the police remained unknown on Thursday.

According to press reports and local residents, Ghazarian and his supporters brawled with a group of other men, including Abrahamian’s son, nephew and bodyguards, in the nearby town of Artashat. The Yerevan daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” said the bodyguards attacked Ghazarian on the street attacked before being themeslves beaten up later in the day.

Abrahamian denied, however, his and his relatives’ and associates’ involvement in the clashes. “There was some brawl between people,” said the speaker. “The police are investigating and the guilty will be punished. What happened has no connection with my bodyguards, my son and my brother’s son.”

The Armenian police held Ghazarian responsible for the incident. Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL that scores of heavily armed police officers descend on Mrgavan hours later, searching the businessman’s and other houses and arresting more than a dozen local residents, including Ghazarian’s wife and several other women. The women were set free after angry villages demonstrated outside the Artashat police headquaters.

Locals claimed the next day that several of their men remain under police custody. But an official at the Artashat police denied that.

In a statement, the national police service in Yerevan said Ghazarian, 50, and his 36-year-old brother Mkrtich are now wanted by law-enforcement authorities on suspicion of provoking the violence. The statement said police officers found weapons in the houses of two local men.

The situation in Mrgavan was visibly tense on Thursday, with many villagers giving emotional accounts of plainclothes officers bursting into their homes, beating men and taking away some of them. “They beat my dad and took him away,” one girl told RFE/RL. “This is all I saw.”

One young woman said the police were looking for her husband Arayik. “They were saying, ‘Tell your husband to come out and we’ll let you go,’” she told RFE/RL. “I said, ‘How can I tell if I don’t know where he is right now?’”

“They swore at my mother and jostled me while the kids cried,” said another woman. “Then my father came in and one of the men swore at my father.” The latter was then taken away, she said.

Members of Ghazarian’s family insisted that the clashes stemmed from a festering feud between the fugitive businessman. “Hovik Abrhamian wants to control everything,” one of them said. “Nobody has the right to do anything without his approval here.”

“This is yet another slander,” countered the influential speaker. “Journalists don’t always tell the truth.”

Artashat and surrounding villaged have for years been considered the de facto fiefdom of Abrahamian and his extended family which is believed to control much of economic activity there. The wine-growing area is also notorious for politically motivated violence against opposition politicians and activists.

Abrahamian and Ghazarian, who has until now managed the Artashat branch of Armenia’s national gas distribution company, are said to have been on good terms until a local election in Mrgavan in which they reportedly backed rival candidates. Bad blood between them flared up into a violent confrontation on April 4 reportedly involving Abrahamian’s son and nephew.

The two young men allegedly unleashed a hail of automatic gunfire at Ghazarian’s house after a drunken assault on a taxi firm belonging to him. Two of its cars were set on fire and destroyed as a result. Abrahamian subsequently claimed that his son had no part in the violence but did not deny his nephew’s involvement.

Later in April, President Serzh Sarkisian publicly expressed concern about this and other violent disputes involving government loyalists and pledged to “drastically toughen our reaction to such incidents.” “If a son or a relative of an official is involved in a crime, we will take strict measures,” he said.

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