A convicted murderer pardoned by President Serzh Sarkisian in 2010 has emerged as another suspect in a recent brutal attack in the Armenian town of Goris that was allegedly orchestrated by a son of Suren Khachatrian, a notorious regional governor.
The suspect, Mayis Khachatrian, is the governor’s nephew who has spent six years in prison for a murder committed in 2004. According to law-enforcement authorities, he went on the run at the weekend after being charged with involvement in last month’s severe beating of two Goris residents, the Zakarian brothers.
One of the brothers suffered a broken nose while the other lost vision in one eye. The victims say that their attackers were led by Tigran Khachatrian, a notoriously violent son of the governor of Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province. Tigran and his father deny these allegations.
Both men have been questioned by investigators as mere “witnesses” in the case. The Investigative Committee, a law-enforcement body leading the inquiry, has pressed charges instead against four other Goris men, including Mayis Khachatrian. All of them except Mayis are now under arrest.
The Armenian police announced a nationwide hunt for the governor’s nephew on Monday. They claim to have been unable to track him down so far.
In 2004, Mayis Khachatrian was convicted of killing a 30-year-old Goris man with 12 stab wounds and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He served only half of the sentence as President Sarkisian pardoned him in 2010.
Sarkisian’s office formally confirmed the pardon last week in a written reply to Zaruhi Postanjian, an outspoken opposition parliamentarian who has long accused the Syunik governor of leading a criminal clan sponsored by the authorities in Yerevan. The office gave no reasons for the clemency.
“I am convinced that had it not been for such clemency we would not have had this atmosphere of impunity,” Postanjian said on Thursday. She again charged that Suren Khachatrian and his relatives get away with violence because of their staunch loyalty to Sarkisian.
Official results of national elections held over the past decade have shown Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) garnering a higher percentage of votes in Syunik than in any other part of the country.
Suren Khachatrian and members of his extended family have a long history of violent conduct. They have held sway in the Goris area, which is part of Syunik, for the past two decades.
Khachatrian was sacked two years ago after his son Tigran and one of his bodyguards shot dead a Goris businessman in a violent dispute outside the Khachatrians’ villa. They were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the shooting only to be cleared of murder charges and set free two months later.
Law-enforcement authorities said the gunshots fired by Tigran constituted legitimate self-defense. His father was reinstated as Syunik governor a year later.
The May 2 assault on the Zakarian brothers and the course of the resulting criminal investigation only reinforced a widely held belief in Armenia that the governor’s clan enjoys immunity from prosecution.
Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the investigation has been effectively suspended because its materials have been sent to Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian for examination. Kostanian requested the documents late last month ostensibly to decide whether the investigators’ reluctance to prosecute the governor’s son is justified.
Artur Sakunts, a prominent Armenian human rights activist, claimed that Kostanian is only helping the authorities cover up the latest high-profile violence in Goris. “The prosecutor-general is using his powers to once again save Suren Khachatrian and his family from prosecution,” Sakunts said.