A dozen leading media organizations of Armenia have demanded that tycoon Gagik Tsarukian offer an apology to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service and its reporter Sisak Gabrielian whom he publicly insulted during an impromptu news briefing on Wednesday.
Gabrielian was among a group of journalists representing different media outlets who were asking questions to Tsarukian, a former embattled political leader contemplating a return to active politics, on the sidelines of a Yerevan business exhibition that the wealthy businessman, lawmaker and president of Armenia’s National Olympic Committee was attending.
At one point of the news briefing, when Tsarukian was listing his good deeds for the people, including the construction of 2,000 shops and their three-year free lease to vendors, RFE/RL’s reporter inquired from the businessman whether the construction project was fully financed by him or the shop lessees also contributed to it.
The question angered Tsarukian, a 59-year-old former world arm-wrestling champion, provoking an acrimonious tirade from him that included the branding of the reporter as a “troublemaker” and a “trained spy”.
The bulky man, who holds sway over a town not far from capital Yerevan, went on to accuse Gabrielian of the plight of the majority of the Armenian population. He claimed that it was the reporter and “the ones who prepared and sent him” that were to blame for the heavy debts that people in Armenia reel under.
These circumstances were noted in a statement released by the media organizations, including the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, the Yerevan Press Club, the Media Initiatives Center, the Asparez Journalists’ Club, the Freedom of Information Center (former Internews) and others.
They said that “this is not the first time that politicians, senior officials and other public figures try to blame the media and journalists for the country’s unresolved problems, ignoring the real persons and bodies responsible for them.”
“Nor is this the first time that these individuals lose their temper after hearing a challenging question or remark from media representatives and start hurling insults, which cannot but cause indignation among journalists,” the statement said.
“We, the undersigned, demand that Gagik Tsarukian apologize to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service and reporter Sisak Gabrielian for inappropriately insulting them and avoid similar vocabulary in talking to journalists in future.”
Tsarukian’s spokeswoman Iveta Tonoyan later issued a statement, describing the incident as a case of “misunderstanding”.
“I want to particularly emphasize that the remarks made by Gagik Tsarukian were not directed specifically against RFE/RL’s Armenian Service,” she said in remarks disseminated through media.
Tonoyan implied that during the impromptu news briefing the businessman did not know that the question was coming from a correspondent of RFE/RL and expressed a hope that the incident would not affect “further efficient cooperation” with this media outlet in Armenia.