An Armenian businessman was beaten up and hospitalized over the weekend in an attack which he said was led by Ruben Hayrapetian, a government-linked and reputedly violent tycoon heading the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA).
Arsen Avetisian, a majority shareholder in the country’s largest airline, was reportedly assaulted near an infamous Yerevan restaurant where security guards working for Hayrapetian beat to death a man three years ago.
Speaking in a Yerevan hospital where he is recovering from a broken nose and other serious injuries, Avetisian said the violence occurred during his meeting with Hayrapetian held at the FFA Football Academy on Saturday.
“Hayrapetian grabbed my hand, and when I tried to free my hand everybody else started hitting me,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I didn’t see who was hitting me as I lay on the ground.”
“They then took me to another place. Ruben Hayrapetian was there and he continued to talk to me,” he said, while lying on a hospital bed.
The businessman declined to give the reasons for the violence. He said he will give more details “in the coming days.”
Meanwhile, Avetisian’s, wife, Izabella Melkumian, published an open letter to President Serzh Sarkisian saying that Hayrapetian and his bodyguards kidnapped him after the beating. She claimed they demanded that the businessman managing Air Armenia, a private carrier, sign a statement certifying that he owes a substantial amount of money to the powerful oligarch.
“I appealed to law-enforcement bodies but am worried about the safety of my husband and other members of our family,” Melkumian said, pleading with Sarkisian to ensure their protection by the state.
The Armenian police said later in the day that they are investigating the allegations. A police spokesperson refused to divulge any details of that inquiry.
According to News.am, Hayrapetian and two of his bodyguards were questioned by police investigators. The tycoon refused to comment when contacted by the online publication. Neither he nor his aides answered phone calls from RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Other Armenian media outlets linked the violent incident with Air Armenia’s outstanding debts to another local airline, Taron-Avia from which it is said to have leased an aircraft until suspending its operations late last year. One publication suggested that Taron-Avia’s owner “ceded” the debt to Hayrapetian.
Air Armenia, which has still not resumed its flight services, also reportedly has unpaid debts to several Armenian banks. Avetisian was assaulted one day after a Ukrainian investment fund, which recently bought a 49 percent stake in Air Armenia, announced that it has invested over $68 million in the troubled airline.
Zhanna Aleksanian, a veteran human rights writer, believes that Avetisian’s beating highlighted a broader problem existing in Armenia. “The oligarchs who are members of [President] Serzh Sarkisian’s inner circle enjoy impunity,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “This is why such incidents recur. Only Serzh Sarkisian can tell how long this will continue.”
The weekend incident will inevitably rekindle memories of a June 2012 brutal assault on several Armenian army medics who dined at Yerevan’s Harsnakar restaurant owned by Hayrapetian’s family. One of them, Vahe Avetian, died while two others were seriously injured after arguing with burly men working at the restaurant.
The death of Avetian, a 35-year-old father of three, shocked the nation, sparking a series of angry street protests by hundreds of civic activists. They demonstrated outside the restaurant as well as Hayrapetian’s nearby villa against what they saw as a manifestation of impunity enjoyed by government-linked oligarchs.
The outcry forced Hayrapetian to resign as member of the Armenian parliament and apologize to Avetian’s family. But he stayed on as chairman of the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA),denying any involvement in the beating. Some media outlets accused him sanctioning or even ordering the violence, however.
In March 2014, six men thought to be Hayrapetian’s bodyguards were convicted of Avetian’s murder and sentenced to 12 years prison. An Armenian appeals court upheld this verdict three months later.
Hayrapetian continued to face allegations of violent conduct event after the Harsnakar incident. In particular, the oligarch was accused in November 2012 of beating up a doctor working for FC Pyunik, a football club controlled by him. In 2014, he allegedly verbally and physically abused a Pyunik player during a football match in Yerevan. Hayrapetian denied those allegations through the FFA’s press service.
The oligarch, who is a senior member of President Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia, has also been accused by Armenian opposition groups of politically motivated violence in the past. He is also notorious for insulting journalists.