An Armenian army officer, who reportedly threatened to blow up a restaurant in Yerevan where one of his colleagues was beaten to death, faced up to six months in prison as he went on trial on Tuesday.
Lieutenant-Colonel Vartan Samvelian, the deputy commander of an army regiment, burst into the Harsnakar restaurant with a hand grenade, a bomb detonator and a large amount of explosive materials early on July 1. He reportedly threatened to set off a powerful explosion to avenge the death of Vahe Avetian, an army doctor assaulted by restaurant staff on June 17. Avetian died in hospital on June 29.
Samvelian, 39, surrendered to the police after three-hour negotiations with senior law-enforcement officers. He was subsequently charged with illegal arms possession and trafficking.
State prosecutors made no mention of the bomb attack allegedly threatened by the officer at the start of his trial in a Yerevan district court. The main trial prosecutor demanded that the court sentence Samvelian to six months in prison and fine him 200,000 drams ($490) for keeping the explosives, ostensibly left over from fighting on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, in his garage.
The prosecutor said nothing about why the defendant took them to the restaurant. He told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) separately that entering Harsnakar with the explosives was not a crime in itself.
In what amounted to a plea bargain, Samvelian pleaded guilty to the accusations and asked the judge to conduct the trial under a so-called “accelerated procedure” that does not require cross-examinations of defendants and witnesses. “I regret not handing over the weapons, which I had found while serving in the border region, to relevant bodies and taking them home instead,” he said.
Samvelian’s lawyer, Hovannes Harutiunian, expressed hope that his client will receive a suspended prison sentence. The judge is expected to announce the verdict at the next court session scheduled for October 4.
The Harsnakar incident has had a huge public resonance in Armenia, with many civic activists, opposition figures and other citizens considering it to be the result of impunity enjoyed by wealthy government-connected businessmen and burly men working for them. One of those tycoons, Ruben Hayrapetian, owns the now-infamous restaurant located in Yerevan’s northern Avan suburb.
Six men officially listed as Harsnakar employees went on a separate trial on September 13 on charges of brutally beating Avetian and two other military doctors in still unclear circumstances. Lawyers for Avetian’s family have strongly criticized a criminal investigation that preceded the trial. They say that the Armenian police failed to properly investigate Hayrapetian’s possible involvement in the violence.