A notorious son of an equally controversial Armenian regional governor has been implicated in fresh violence almost two years after shooting and killing a man outside his family’s home in the southeastern town of Goris.
Tigran Khachatrian was reportedly among several dozen men who beat up and seriously injured two other local residents outside Goris on May 2. Harut Zakarian lost vision in one eye while his elder brother Mushegh suffered a broken nose.
The brothers claim that the attackers were led by the 22-year-old Khachatrian, whose father Suren is the governor of Armenia’s Syunik province encompassing Goris.
Better known as “Liska,” Suren Khachatrian has long held sway in the area. For more than two decades independent media outlets have implicated him and his relatives in violent attacks on local business rivals and other government critics.
Khachatrian was sacked in June 2013 shortly Tigran and his bodyguards clashed with Avetik Budaghian, a 43-year-old local businessman, and his brother Artak outside the Khachatrians’ Goris villa. Avetik was shot dead while Artak, who is an Armenian army colonel, seriously wounded in the incident. According to the Budaghian family, shortly before the shootout Suren Khachatrian assaulted Avetik Budaghian in his car in an attempt to force the latter to share his business revenues with the governor’s clan.
Tigran and one of the bodyguards were arrested in the following days only to be cleared of murder charges and set free two months later. Law-enforcement authorities said the fatal gunshots fired by them constituted legitimate self-defense. The Armenian government reappointed Khachatrian as Syunik governor in September 2014.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee essentially confirmed Tigran Khachatrian’s involvement in the May 2 assault in its first statement on the incident that announced the launch of a criminal inquiry. The law-enforcement agency has since divulged no details of the probe conducted by it, raising fears of a cover-up.
In an apparent response to a barrage of critical media reports, the Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Monday that it instructed the Investigative Committee to detain and interrogate “a number of individuals” who witnessed or participated in the violence. A statement by the office did not specify whether Tigran Khachartian is among them. It said only that the investigators’ efforts to identify the culprits have been “inefficient” so far.
Aghvan Hovsepian, the head of the Investigative Committee, refused to answer any questions on the high-profile case when he was approached by reporters on Saturday. His spokeswoman, Sona Truzian, remained just as tight-lipped. “All necessary investigative actions are being taken,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday.
Asked whether the investigators have at least tried to question the governor’s son, Truzian said, “I won’t give you any further details in the interests of the investigation.”
The Syunik governor has not been available for comment over the past week. One of his aides, Volodya Hovannisian, categorically denied Tigran’s involvement last week.
Suren Khachatrian’s wife Loreta, a key witness of the 2013 deadly shootings outside the family house, angrily refused to comment when contacted by RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday. “Leave me alone and don’t call me with such questions anymore,” she said.
Meanwhile, the father of the injured brothers, Gurgen Zakarian, insisted that his sons were assaulted by about 50 men led by Tigran Khachatrian. He said they both have formally testified against the governor’s son.
“It’s a criminal gang that has been terrorizing people in Goris and Syunik as a whole,” charged Zakarian.
“That same Tigran had a fight with my son a few months ago,” he said. “I won’t forgive him. I had repeatedly warned him to stay away from my family.”
Two other Goris brothers were beaten up in a similar fashion after a dozen men broke into their house a year ago. They were reportedly led by Suren Khachatrian’s nephew Eyner. The latter avoided prosecution.
Official results of Armenian elections held over the past decade have shown President Sarkisian and his Republican Party (HHK) winning more votes in Syunik than in any other part of the country. Government critics in Yerevan say this is why Khachatrian and his extended family have gotten away with so much violence.
Khachatrian, who was first appointed as Syunik governor in 2004 by then President Robert Kocharian, faced in 2008 an embarrassing government inquiry into a newspaper report that accused him of beating up a teenage boy. He was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
Khachatrian, managed to retain his position even after assaulting in a Yerevan hotel lobby in 2011 a businesswoman who accused him of fraud. Although the incident was captured by a surveillance camera, law-enforcement bodies refused to bring criminal charges against the governor on the grounds that the woman did not suffer serious physical injuries.