BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
If anything, we can credit Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan for making the otherwise laborious and boring cabinet meetings into a sought-after event filled with cliffhangers that keep us guessing every week.
On Thursday, the government announced that the notorious governor of Syunik Province, Suren Khachatryan, also known as Liska, will step down from his post, which he has used for years to curry favors for President Serzh Sarkisian and deliver him bundles of votes during elections. He has also used his position to run a mafia-like fiefdom in the province and its capital Goris, which is one of the most critical cities in Armenia bordering the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
But this is not the first time that Liska has been relieved of his duties, only to return with a stronger chokehold on the region and its residents. Lest we forget that episode In June 2013 when a shootout outside his villa in Goris left a local businessman, Avetik Budaghian, dead and his brother Artak critically injured. Implicated in the armed attack was Liska’s 20-year-old son, Tigran and a bodyguard, who were arrested and charged with murder, only to be cleared of all charges. In 2014, Sarkisian reinstated Liska who continued in his post despite his son’s second arrest last year in connection with a brutal beating of two men outside Goris. Once again, Tigran was set free.
Liska’s violence against women, children and those who oppose him was even cataloged by the US Embassy in Armenia as revealed by the Wikileaks trove of State Department documents that were released several years ago.
The move to remove Liska from office can be deemed a positive step by Karapetyan, who was mandated by the president to make significant socio-economic reforms. Yet the name being mentioned as Liska’s replacement, Vahe Hakobyan, is the chief executive of the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine, Armenia’s largest mining company based in Syunik. He is yet another businessman with entrenched ties in the province, albeit not the violent pedigree of his predecessor.
The true test will be whether Liska will be charged and prosecuted for the crimes he has committed against individuals and the people of Armenia.
Let’s hope these changes by instated by Prime Minister Karapetyan will lead to true reforms.