A notoriously violent son of an Armenian regional government was set free on Thursday two months after being arrested on charges of leading a brutal attack on two men outside his hometown of Goris in May.
Law-enforcement authorities said new evidence obtained by them shows that Tigran Khachatrian did not personally inflict a severe injury on Harut Zakarian, one of the two victims attacked by a large group of other men.
Zakarian lost vision in one eye, while his brother Mushegh suffered a broken nose in the incident which reportedly occurred after a verbal argument with Khachatrian, whose father Suren is the governor of the surrounding Syunik province. The brothers testified that Tigran led and personally participated in the beating.
The Armenian police arrested several men, among them relatives of Khachatrian, before reluctantly interrogating Tigran later in May. The 20-year-old was placed under arrest in late July amid a continuing media outcry.
Explaining Tigran’s release from custody, the Office of the Prosecutor-General said another arrested suspect, Yuri Manucharian, has admitted badly injuring Harut Zakarian during the violence. In a statement, the law-enforcement agency said that Manucharian’s testimony has been confirmed by several other “witnesses” as well as Zakarian.
Zakarian told investigators earlier that it was Tigran Khachatrian who kicked him in the eye. His parents had for months been demanding that Khachatrian be arrested and prosecuted on corresponding charges.
The victim’s father, Gagik Zakarian, pointedly declined to condemn Khachatrian’s release from jail, saying that he fully trusts the investigators. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), he strongly denied that the Khachatrian family or law-enforcement bodies have forced his son to change his testimony.
Tigran Khachatrian already spent three months in pre-trial detention in 2013 after shooting and killing a man outside his father’s Goris villa. He was subsequently cleared of the murder charges and set free. Law-enforcement authorities said the gunshots fired by Khachatrian and one of the Syunik governor’s bodyguards constituted legitimate self-defense.
Suren Khachatrian, who is better known as “Liska,” was sacked in the wake of the 2013 incident. But he was reinstated as governor a year later, sparking renewed allegations by the Armenian opposition and civil society about impunity enjoyed by thuggish government loyalists.
Armenian human rights activists consider Tigran’s release from custody as another proof of that impunity. “For two months Armenia’s entire law-enforcement system has looked for a way to free Tigran Khachatrian,” one of them, Zhanna Aleksanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “They have clearly found one.”
“It is evident that once again Liska and a prominent member of his gang, his son, are directly sponsored by Armenia’s so-called law-enforcement bodies,” agreed another activist, Artur Sakunts. “This is a blatant act of injustice directed against every citizen of Armenia.”