Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) rallied hundreds of supporters and threatened to boycott parliament sessions on Monday after one of its activists was kidnapped and beaten unconscious in Yerevan.
The activist, Artak Khachatrian, was found dumped onto a street near his home on Saturday about five hours after being attacked while walking in the city center with a friend, Narek Abrahamian. According to Abrahamian, three masked men forced Khachatrian into a car and drove away.
Vahan Babayan, a parliament deputy from the BHK, claimed to have received a phone call from Khachatrian at around the same time. “I could hear him say, ‘Don’t hit me; where are you taking me?’ I could hear the beating. Then I lost the line,” Babayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Khachatrian was rushed to Yerevan’s Malatia hospital where he underwent surgery for a broken nose on Sunday. A senior doctor there said the BHK activist will remain in the hospital for a week.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee was quick to launch a formal inquiry into the assault under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with kidnappings. It reported no arrests as of Monday afternoon.
Khachatrian was one of the main speakers at recent demonstrations in Yerevan that were staged by small business owners protesting against a controversial tax law. The protests, strongly backed by the BHK, continued on a smaller scale last week despite the Armenian government’s decision to freeze the law by another five months.
The BHK leadership condemned the attack on Khachatrian as politically motivated, saying that the Armenian authorities are thus trying to intimidate political groups challenging President Serzh Sarkisian. “We believe that the country’s supreme political leadership is primarily to blame for the atmosphere of banditry and lawlessness,” it said in a statement.
The governing board of Tsarukian’s party also instructed the BHK’s parliamentary faction, the second largest in the National Assembly, to consider boycotting parliament sessions together with its opposition allies.
One of those allies, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) deplored Khachatrian’s beating in even stronger terms on Sunday. The HAK linked it to a spate of similar attacks on five other opposition politicians and activists who actively participated in a series of nationwide demonstrations organized by the BHK, the HAK and another opposition party, Zharangutyun (Heritage) in the autumn.
Aram Manukian, an HAK lawmaker who was beaten up in November, backed the idea of the parliamentary boycott as he joined hundreds of BHK members and supporters in marching through central Yerevan on Monday. Chanting “Artak!” the demonstrators condemned the violence and demanded that the authorities identify those responsible for it.
“If the authorities’ aim is to turn Armenia into a gangster-infested Sicily then they must make an official statement to that effect,” Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK figure, told reporters during the protest.
The BHK activist was beaten up just two days after Tsarukian again blasted the Sarkisian administration’s economic track record and said the opposition trio will soon resume its campaign of anti-government street protests. Speaking at an opposition conference, the tycoon warned Sarkisian to abandon his plans for a sweeping constitutional reform or face a BHK push for his resignation.
It was announced on Monday that Tsarukian, HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and Zharangutyun’s Raffi Hovannisian will meet on February 15 to discuss their further joint steps.