The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) on Friday defended the government’s decision to reinstate a notorious regional governor which has prompted outrage from the Armenian opposition, media and human rights campaigners.
Razmik Zohrabian, an HHK chairman, argued that investigators have found no evidence implicating Suren Khachatrian in a high-profile murder that was committed in June 2013 just outside his home in Goris, a town in the southeastern Syunik province which he has governed for much of the past decade.
“After that incident in Goris he resigned so that the investigators and the court could determine who is guilty and who is not,” Zohrabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“Time has passed and the government has decided to again appoint him as governor,” he said. “He has nothing to do with that murder. It was established that Surik Khachatrian did not kill anyone.”
Zohrabian referred to the findings of a criminal investigation into the fatal shooting of Avetik Budaghian, a 43-year-old Goris businessman. The latter was gunned down in a violent dispute with the governor, his son Tigran and bodyguards. Tigran and one of the bodyguards were arrested for shooting Budaghian and his brother Artak during the incident.
Both men were set free and cleared of any wrongdoing in September 2013 after law-enforcement bodies concluded that their actions constituted self-defense. They argued that the Budaghian brothers were armed when they visited Khachatrian’s Goris villa on that night. The investigators also backed the governor’s claims that he had no direct part in the shootings.
Lawyers for the Budaghian family as well as government critics and opponents in Yerevan question those claims. Accordingly, they strongly condemned Khachatrian’s reappointment on Thursday, which coincided with a joint rally held by three of Armenia’s leading opposition parties.
Some speakers at the rally branded Khachatrian a “murderer.” They also said that by having him reappointed as governor President Serzh Sarkisian made mockery of his repeated pledges to boost the rule of law in Armenia.
Zaruhi Postanjian, an outspoken deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, claimed on Friday that Sarkisian continues to rely on controversial figures like Khachatrian for fear of losing power. “If political processes were indeed under the regime’s full control, they would not have rehired a criminal element like Liska,” she said, using the governor’s nickname. “The authorities badly need his services.”
The HHK’s Zohrabian dismissed such allegations. “There are no irreplaceable people,” he said. “It’s just that his guilt has not been proven.”