ANM Leader Arrested for Assaulting Vartanian

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A leading member of the former ruling party Armenian National Movement was arrested in Yerevan Tuesday for allegedly attacking a political opponent close to President Robert Kocharian.

A spokesman for Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor General told RFE/RL that ANM deputy chairman Ararat Zurabian has been charged with beating up Aghvan Vartanian–Kocharian’s presidential campaign spokesperson –Saturday. The spokesman’said the Office has opened a criminal case against Zurabian and will seek his punishment for "hooliganism," but refused to divulge details.

The incident reportedly occurred at a cafe in central Yerevan–with Zurabian and a dozen of his associates allegedly picking a fight with Vartanian upon whom they inflicted physical injuries. The local daily newspaper "Azg" claimed Tuesday that Zurabian was drunk at the time of the incident.

Observers say that the incident may be related to the long-standing enmity between the two parties that have been at odds since Armenia became independent in 1991. The ANM enjoyed the status of a ruling party until the resignation of President Levon Ter-Petrosyan–last February under pressure from opponents led by then-Prime Minister Kocharian. The ARF–banned by Ter-Petrosyan in late 1994–was re-legalized shortly after Kocharian took over as Armenia’s acting president and supported his successful bid in last month’s presidential election.

There has been no official reaction to the arrest from the ANM. Chairman of the ANM–Vano Siradeghian–refused to comment but promised an interview to RFE/RL in "a few days." Reports also said that Vartanian–who was the spokesman of Kocharian’s presidential campaign–was not hospitalized. It remains unclear whether the alleged assailant Zurabian–head of Yerevan’s central municipal district–will keep his job.

"Azg" described Saturday’s attack on ARF party member Aghvan Vartanian by the ANM members as a continuation of "pre-election offenses." The newspaper noted that there were two parliament deputies among the attackers. One of them–Vahagn Hayotsian–has an "impressive experience in beating [people] up." He distinguished himself in the infamous September 25–1996 attack on opposition leaders in the parliament. Azg also reported that the ARF leadership has demanded strong action from authorities.

Meanwhile–the ARF daily newspaper "Yerkir," on Tuesday–carried no commen’s regarding Saturday’s attack on Vartanian. Instead–it editorialized that "The last eight years have seriously damaged people’s faith [in the state]. They no longer believe anyone or anything." The top priority of the new authorities must therefore be "to restore that faith" and "make sense of that past." What people expect of them is to bring all corrupt former officials to "justice," and not just to courts–which "are not just" in Armenia–Yerkir maintained.

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