Just three months after being dismissed by the government, Suren Khachatrian, the controversial former governor of Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province, has also resigned as leader of the regional branch of the ruling Republican Party (HHK).
Khachatrian refused to explain the move when he was contacted by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday. “I have nothing to tell you,” he said by phone.
Ruben Tadevosian, a senior HHK official in Yerevan, said that Khachatrian stepped down because of “health issues.” He insisted that the ex-governor notorious for violent conduct was not forced to quit.
Khachatrian was dogged by controversy both before and after he became Syunik governor in 2004. Independent media have long implicated him and his relatives in violent attacks on local business rivals as well as government critics. He has always denied involvement in such incidents.
Khachatrian was first sacked in the wake of a June 2013 shootout outside his villa in Goris, a town in Syunik, which left a local businessman, Avetik Budaghian, dead. Budaghian and his brother Artak, an army colonel, clashed with Khachatrian’s sons and bodyguards in disputed circumstances.
Khachatrian’s 21-year-old son Tigran and one of the bodyguards were arrested and charged with murder. But they were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing. Suren Khachatrian was reinstated as governor in September 2014.
He retained his post even after his son was again arrested in July 2015 in connection with a brutal beating of two men outside Goris. Tigran Khachatrian was set free two months later.
The governor tendered his resignation in early October, shortly after Karen Karapetian was appointed as Armenia’s prime minister, promising to strengthen the rule of law and implement economic reforms.
Syunik’s current governor, Vahe Hakobian, previously managed the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine, Armenia’s largest mining company based in Syunik. Hakobian has also replaced Khachatrian as chairman of the ruling HHK’s Syunik chapter.
Official results of Armenian elections held over the past decade have shown President Serzh Sarkisian and the HHK winning more votes in Syunik than in any other part of the country. Critics say this explains why Khachatrian has held on to his posts for so long.
Tadevosian downplayed Khachatrian’s personal role in the HHK’s strong showing in Syunik, however, saying that all local party members contributed to it. He also said that the ex-governor will participate in the HHK’s campaign for the parliamentary elections slated for April 2.