Several bodyguards of Armenia’s controversial Transport Minister Gagik Beglarian have been arrested on charges of severely beating up other men, it was confirmed on Tuesday.
Law-enforcement authorities said the arrests stemmed from a violent dispute that occurred outside the Transport and Communication Ministry building in Yerevan on May 16.
“There are arrested and detained individuals, among them Minister Gagik Beglarian’s bodyguards. We cannot give other details yet,” the Office of the Prosecutor-General told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
According to Armenia’ Investigative Committee, which is dealing with the high-profile case, five men have been placed under arrest and charged with grave assault. The spokeswoman for the committee, Sona Truzian, said they attacked and seriously injured other men during the incident. One of the victims suffered life-threatening injuries, she said.
“The reasons why this brawl occurred are already clear but in the interests of the investigation I can’t give other details at this point,” Truzian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). She said investigators have so far found no evidence of Beglarian’s involvement in the violence.
Citing unnamed law-enforcement sources, the Yerevan daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” reported that four of the arrested men work as bodyguards for Beglarian. Truzian declined to confirm or deny this. She said only that one of the suspects is officially employed as a Transport and Communication Ministry driver.
Neither Beglarian nor his spokesperson could be reached for comment throughout the day.
The minister nicknamed “Black Gago” is a senior member of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) who served as Yerevan’s mayor from 2009-2010. He has been no stranger to controversy.
Beglarian was forced to resign as mayor in December 2010 after assaulting an official at the presidential administration’s protocol unit. According to media reports, the official, Aram Kandayan, incurred Beglarian’s ire after asking the latter’s wife not to sit next to Sarkisian during an opera concert in Yerevan. Such seats have traditionally been reserved for Armenia’s prime minister, parliament speaker and the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Beglarian and his bodyguards reportedly kidnapped and beat up Kandayan afterwards. Beglarian was never prosecuted for what a presidential spokesman condemned as an “unacceptable and intolerable” behavior. He was on the contrary appointed as transport minister in June 2012.
Beglarian, 52, holds sway in a largely blue-collar part of central Yerevan notorious for election-related violence against opposition activists. Armenian opposition groups have long accused him of leading a local clan that rigs elections and bullies the government’s political opponents. Beglarian and the ruling HHK have denied these allegations.
Critics of the Armenian government also claim that individuals like Beglarian enjoy de facto impunity because President Sarkisian heavily relies on them to stay in power.
“Services provided by a group of individuals to the authorities during elections are so serious that they earn them a right to impunity,” said Vartan Harutiunian, a prominent human rights campaigner. “Beglarian is one of these men. He and his entourage feel that they are above the law.”