An Armenian law-enforcement agency said on Monday that it is investigating a provincial governor’s possible involvement in a violent dispute that left one man critically injured.
The incident occurred late last week in Yeghegnadzor, the administrative center of Armenia’s southeastern Vayots Dzor province. Ara Mkhitarian, an army lieutenant-colonel serving there, suffered severe injuries to his head while reportedly arguing with an assistant to the Vayots Dzor governor, Trdat Sargsian, in still unclear circumstances.
Mkhitarian remained in a coma at a military hospital on Monday, with doctors fighting for his life. One of them described the officer’s chances of survival as “very small.”
According to Armenia’s Investigative Committee, Mkhitarian suffered his injuries when he was punched by the governor’s 28-year-old aide, Harutiun Grigorian, and fell to the ground. Grigorian was arrested and charged with violent assault over the weekend.
Mkhitarian’s father Samvel and friends dismissed the official version of events as they gathered outside the prime minister’s office in Yerevan on Monday morning to demand an objective and full investigation of the Yeghegnadzor incident. They said that the officer and his colleagues were assaulted by a larger group of men that may have included Governor Sargsian.
“How can you knock down a 120-kilogram guy and smash his skull with one punch?” argued Samvel Mkhitarian.
“The governor must resign and be put on trial along with his gang,” said one of the victim’s friends.
Another protester claimed that an eyewitness who has given incriminating testimony against Sargsian is now being bullied by the governor. “We are demanding that the prosecutor[-general] put this case under his personal control and ensure a fair investigation because we don’t trust the Vayots Dzor police,” he said.
Sargsian, who is affiliated with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, strongly denied his involvement. “I was at home [during the incident,]” he told reporters.
The 30-year-old governor confirmed the existence of incriminating testimony against him. “I think it must be established who ordered such testimony and the person who ordered the false testimony must also be held accountable,” he said.
The Investigative Committee said, meanwhile, that it is taking “urgent measures” to “verify the Vayots Dzor governor’s participation in the incident.”
A spokeswoman for the committee, Naira Harutiunian, said investigators are studying footage from surveillance camera placed near the scene of the violence. “The case is overseen by the chairman of the Investigative Committee, Hayk Grigorian,” she added.