To Maim and Kill with Impunity

Syunik Governor Suren Khachatryan

Preferential Treatment for Armenia’s Oligarchs and their Entourage

From The Armenian Weekly

In November 2011, Syunik Governor Suren Khachatryan (aka “Liska”) physically attacked businesswoman Silva Hambarzumyan in the lobby of the Marriot Hotel in Yerevan. He was reportedly angered over her accusations that he stole over 100 million drams ($258,000) worth of equipment from her gold mine. The media quickly picked up the story, as the attack happened in a public space, involved two high-profile individuals, and had as eyewitnesses Republican Party MPs Samvel Sargsyan and Khachik Manukyan.

This was not the first time the Syunik governor or other members of the ruling elite were accused of physically attacking citizens. In 2001, an intoxicated Georgian-Armenian was viciously beaten to death in a bathroom stall by then-President Robert Kocharian’s bodyguard, Aghamal Harutiunyan, during a jazz concert in Yerevan’s Poplavok cafe. The victim, Poghos Poghosian, had been imprudent enough to “insult” the president by greeting him with, “Hello, Rob!” (short for Robert). The bodyguard received a mere probation for his crime, as the court rejected the key witness account of British citizen Stephen Newton. Unfortunately, these crimes are not exceptions, and they have not escaped the attention of foreign diplomats.

A set of U.S. Embassy cables originating from the embassy in Yerevan paint a disturbing reality of beatings and murders at the hands of powerful figures or members of their entourage. U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, for instance, wrote of a brawl that took place in a Yerevan discotheque in Octeber 2008 that was allegedly “prompted” by a nephew of President Serge Sarkisian’s. It resulted in serious injuries, and the loss of an eye for one of the men involved.

Unrestrained violence has even permeated state institutions; the cables and various news reports tell of beatings and murders that happen at the hands of the police and army officials, and often go unpunished. Numerous cables chronicle instances of attacks against human rights activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens, in addition to media censorship and intimidation.

The May 2007 death of restaurant owner Levon Gulian troubled U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Pennington because the victim perished when he plunged to his death—head first—out of the window of a police station where he was being interrogated. According to his family, Gulian voluntarily went to the police to give his account as a witness to a crime, but ended up dead. A proper investigation has never been carried out, and his injuries are left unexplained. Pennington wrote that the government counsel provided a “fantastic scenario” of how Gulian fell head first, and not on his feet—as he should have if he had willingly jumped down 25 feet. Pennington followed that case closely, sending a number of cables with updates on the investigation.

In May 2008, Pennington cabled another report that described how Governor Khachatryan had allegedly “viciously beat” a teenager who was unlucky enough to have fallen into a skirmish with the governor’s son. After the news spread, the governor’s supervisor, the minister of territorial administration, looked into the affair and found no misconduct.

In April 2011, the governor allegedly beat a 12-year-old boy and broke his jaw. The boy’s family did not report the attack out of fear, wrote Aravot newspaper at the time. Pennington noted that the incident was not a first for Khachatryan or his family. Khachatryan “de facto reigns over Syunik as a feudal lord,” he wrote, adding, “in 2007, the governor’s brother reportedly attempted to rape a girl at broad daylight in a supermarket.”

Soon after, Aravot printed a retraction stating they had wrongly identified another child as the victim, and that the real victim was 16 years old. The newspaper further stated that the family, fearing Khachatryan, did not wish to be identified, and had not taken the boy to a hospital, deciding instead to rely on the expertise of a physician they knew. It also stated that the victim’s house was under surveillance by thugs working for the governor.

According to Pennington, soon after these news reports were published, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian ordered his deputy prime minister, Armen Gevorkian (who also serves as minister of territorial administration), to look into Aravot’s report. Gevorkian formed a special commission; after first meeting with the misidentified 12-year-old boy and X-raying his jaw, he finally met with the real victim and found there were no outer signs of injuries. Pennington noted that weeks had passed since the incident occurred, and the commission did not X-ray the jaw of the actual victim. Again, the commission found no wrongdoing on the part of the governor. Instead, they found that the teenager had hit the governor’s son, and that Aravot’s reports were flawed.

A month after sending the cable, Pennington authored another one stating that a direct source (identified in the report but protected here for his safety) confirmed the governor’s attack. The teenage victim was the son of one of the Board members of the Goris Teachers’ Union. Apparently, the governor’s son had made advances toward a girl on the street, and the teenager had intervened. The governor reportedly called the teenager to his office, to reprimand him for daring to hit his son. The teenager showed no remorse. Angered, the governor hit him, drawing “excessive” amounts of blood from his nose. Khachatryan then offered the boy a napkin, but the latter pushed it away. Furious, he then “viciously” beat the teenager.

The source also revealed that the governor had forbidden area hospitals from giving aid to the injured teenager. Thus, his family was forced to drive him to a hospital four hours away in Yerevan. According to the source, all the residents of Goris knew of the incident.

“Syunik’s governor has a long-standing, well-deserved reputation as a thug who rules the distant southern province with an iron grip,” wrote Pennington. “The ability of key figures—governors, mayors, generals, oligarchs, as well as their sons, bodyguards, and retainers —to beat up or even kill ordinary citizens with impunity remains both a human rights blot and cause for ongoing public anger at the entrenched elites.”

According to a 2004 U.S. Embassy cable authored by U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Armenia Vivian Walker, Khachatryan was appointed governor of Syunik province by Kocharian. Some regarded Khachatryan’s and others’ appointments to key government positions as payoffs for their support in the 2003 elections. In both the 1998 and 2003 presidential elections, Syunik province cast the most votes for Kocharian. Formerly an auto mechanic and a parliamentarian, Khachatryan entered the political scene during the Karabagh War, serving as a commander to military units in Goris. “Some claim that the Khachatryan family considers the province to be their de facto personal fiefdom,” wrote Walker, who added that according to media reports, Khachatryan has been “linked” to “violent incidents” in Goris since 1996. In March 2004, two of the governor’s nephews faced criminal charges for murdering a local man, Walker noted.

Settling scores on the streets of Yerevan
Two years earlier, a set of murders in Armenia prompted then-U.S. Embassy Chargé d´Affaires Anthony Godfrey to send a cable to Washington to express his alarm. “Oligarchs and thugs have taken to settling scores on the street in greater numbers in the last few months, and high-profile assassinations and murder attempts are on the rise in Armenia,” he wrote in a cable dated Oct. 18, 2006.

He mentioned how in June 2006, 26-year-old (31 by other accounts) Sedrak Zatikian, a Yerkrapah (Karabagh War veterans’ political movement) leader, was gunned down in broad daylight while driving his car. The shooting also claimed the life of a bystander. Zatikian was “wealthy, relatively powerful, and notorious,” wrote Godfrey. His notoriety was established in 2004, after he assaulted the nephew of influential parliamentary deputy, Hakob Hakobian (aka “Ledi Hakob”). Zatikian hid from police for months, avoiding prosecution, but later reconciled with the Hakobians. Police arrested one of Hakobian’s nephews in connection with the murder, but only charged him with illegal arms possession.

According to recent news reports, Hakobyan’s 33-year-old nephew, Stepan Hakobyan (wanted since Zatikyan’s murder), was apprehended in December 2011. Two others, Ashot Hakobyan, 43, and Arayik Yeghiazaryan, 40, were also arrested.

Murder in Etchmiadzin
In 2008, Pennington penned his outrage at an incident involving yet another father and son. This time, the son of retired army general and parliamentary member Seyran Saroyan was accused of participating in the murder of Sepuh Karapetian, 23, from Echmiadzin in March of that year. The murder was allegedly ordered by the retired general who was enraged that his son, Zarzand, had received a knife wound during a fight with three young men. The wound was inflicted by Karapetian’s friend, allegedly in self-defense, according to a Hetq interview with an anonymous friend present at the scene. The fight reportedly broke out when the three tried to stop Zarzand’s unwelcome advances towards a young woman. Upon learning about the fight, the general reportedly ordered his son to seek revenge.

According to reports cited by Pennington, Zarzand, a relative (rumored to be the general’s father), and eight of the general’s bodyguards participated in locating the three youth, savagely beating them, and murdering Karapetian. “According to Karapetian’s anonymous friend, when the 23-year-old’s body was found, it showed signs of torture. Karapetian’s shoes and socks had been removed and his feet beaten to a pulp; the deceased’s legs had turned white from repetitive blows; and his hands had been pierced by a sharp implement in the manner of a crucifixion,” wrote Pennington.

In the end, a distant relative of the general, Arayik Saroyan, was charged with premeditated murder, but third-party sources were unable to verify whether the relative had been present at the time of the murder. Pennington noted that according to a Hetq report, Zarzand was also involved in a hit-and-run that left a 10-year-old boy dead and another crippled in 2007.

“This and other similar incidents in recent years reinforce the impression of many ordinary Armenians that there is a class of well-connected individuals and oligarchs here who, along with their families and security details, can rob, kill, and maim with impunity,” wrote Pennington. “We customarily hear reports several times per year of influential generals or oligarchs, or their families or retainers, being involved in violent altercations with average citizens unlucky or imprudent enough to get in their way. Such incidents are routinely swept under the carpet… It is precisely incidents such as these that deepen Armenians’ feelings of helpless rage that there is a class of wealthy and thuggish regime supporters who are effectively free to maim and kill ordinary citizens with impunity.”

Unfortunately, some of the very same individuals whose actions shocked the authors of these cables are still terrorizing the streets of Armenia. Khachatryan made headlines yet again in recent weeks after he allegedly threatened the wellbeing of an environmental activist. An even-handed judiciary must emerge that acts not as the pawn of the rich and powerful, but as an institution that guards the rights of all Armenian citizens. Crimes must be punished, regardless of the depth of the criminals’ pockets or their familial relations.

Discussion Policy

Comments are welcomed and encouraged. Though you are fully responsible for the content you post, comments that include profanity, personal attacks or other inappropriate material will not be permitted. Asbarez reserves the right to block users who violate any of our posting standards and policies.


  1. Harut said:

    wow what a tuff guy beating up a 12 year older then breaking his jaw or beating up a lady, Ihope he was in the USA they would of hanged himj from his well u know the deal and spit down his throat and you expect people to go back and live there after hearing crap like these , can some one tell me that there is politician oin the States that beats up kids and women and gets away with it, i dont think so.

    • Edward Demian said:

      What happened to NAMUS. The victims have no relatives? That is the problem with an unarmed population. Every house should have guns and ammunition for self defense. An armed population is able to protect itself from enemies foreign and domestic. Arm yourselves if you don’t want to be victimized. No one else will risk their live to protect you against others, when you don’t lift a finger to protect yourself.

    • Jivan bardiz said:

      We have to make boycott movement agains Armenia / no money to send and no tourist until countrie get new and humain spirit governement/do you know if you dont have money doctors surgeon in Armenia let you die they dont care about humain / i use to know this man 38 years old hospital ask 10.000$ And he didn t have and he die woooh nice Armenia

  2. Garo Kazezian said:

    It is sad and disturbing to continue hearing about cases of violent acts against citizens in the civilain and military sectors of the society in Armenia. As a proud Armenian I think very highly of our people in Armenia.
    Since the days of the old system I have known many decent, civilized, intelligent and law abiding citizens and I know that there were individuals who were corrupt and influential at different levels of government and society.
    You would think that freedom, opennes to the outer world and the passage of time would bring about positive changes in governance, law enforcement, the judicial system and the social behaviors and attitudes of people.

  3. Raffikian said:

    Unbelievable, Civilized and Uncivilized the extremes of Armeninan people, some of them are stil living in stone age.

  4. Arman said:

    These “Armenian” thugs and ruffians look part Turkic barbarian, part Italian mobster. I bet if a saliva-swab DNA test were done on them, it would prove my hypothesis. They are the offspring of criminals…therefore they think and act like criminals. Poor Armenia’s people are still suffering at the hands of ‘Armenian Turks’.

  5. Linda Rose said:

    I am so dishearted to have read these accounts of total criminal actions. Armenians were to have risen above in decent character especially after so many innocent Armenians died as not to renounce their faith in Christianity. These barbarians that are committing these crimes are worse than the Turks that murdered and raped so many innocent people. They have no pride of their history, culture or religion that they feel intitled to behave in such a horrid manner. I thank God everyday that my Grandparents escaped to America where our generations have tried to become a people that all Americans would be proud to share their country with. Why do you Armenian Armenians have to disgrace our culture and violate are God given rights. You are of the lowest form of humans and should be sent to hell for your atrocities. I pray that through God and hopefully our Archbishop you will be banished from Armenia for ever and suffer your punishment as God see’s fit. Shame on you and all those that support this type of criminal atrocity.

    • Sako said:

      This governor deserves criminal prosecution. Yet, your insane mix of praying to god to destroy an entire group of people is a perfect example of why religion fails. theres good and bad in every population. americans, armenian-americans (first or fifth generation), and armenians all have good people and evil people. if you are that ashamed of armenia, assimilate and get over it, armenia doesnt need you.

      • Arman said:

        Assimilate and get over it, Armenia doesn’t need you? Now you are calling for the destruction of an entire group of people. And by the way I dislike the phrase “get over it” ever since Condoleezza Rice told Armenians to “get over it” and forget about the Armenian Genocide. Armenia doesn’t need her but it needs her dollars, right? Don’t tell her ‘Armenia doesn’t need you’…the truth is Armenia doesn’t need vulgar and barbarian people like that mobster governor, or people like you with Caucasus Mountains mentalities which make them deal in absolutes. Look at what you said in reply to her. She and I and everyone else with any decency should be ashamed for that thug of a governor. But you said to her “assimilate and get over it, Armenia doesn’t need you.” Why do you get to an extreme position all of a sudden and start dealing in absolutes? Is there no middle ground? She wants the good of Armenia by wanting that country to be rid of ruffians. And you basically tell her to go die and be an Armenian no more.
        Two very wrong mentalities of Armenians from the Caucasus are dealing in absolutes, and justifying bad behavior with other bad behavior.

        • Sipan said:

          While I don’t agree with Sako’s remarks with regards to the assimilation and get over part of his message, I also don’t agree with Linda’s comments with regards to associating a whole sub-group of people with a few thugs from that subgroup. We are no different than any other ethnic group, therefore we have the good and the bad. It is important to point it out as a supplimentary info to your message, because as a non-extrimist Armenian like yourself, I’m sure you wouldn’t agree with Linda’s extrimist views about this particular subgroup.

        • Edward Demian said:

          I say to Condoleza Rice: Forget about that Slavery chapter in the American history. The black were lucky to be brought here, civilized, racially improved with European genes, and brought into the 20 century from the stone age. Or they would still been eating each other today. Get over it!

  6. MK said:

    The fish always rots from its head,and sadly in our case we have Serzh and his brothers who are nothing but a bunch of corrupt crooks,and we in the diaspora keep clapping him,receiving his devalued state medals,state titles,what a farce.

  7. Christo said:

    I have seen the video of the governor lecturing that diasporan Armenian to go back to his country and not meddle in Armenia’s environmental issues. However, that diasporan Armenian raised the bar and told the governor that Armenia is his country, and that environmental issues concern him.
    However, he is a diasporan and he wasn’t born in Armenia or a citizen of Armenia, so he can visit and spend his dollars/euros/ or whatever and go back to his country of birth. He was lucky the governor had the respect of engaging personally with him. In the states he wouldn’t even dream of getting that close to a governor or even a small city council member. He is lucky he didn’t get his ass whipped. He is another diasporan agitator.
    Just like a bunch of diasporan Armenians (democrat party affiliates) I would guess, who I would hear lecturing passersby in Armenia that smoking is bad for their health. Always thinking they know better.

  8. Avetis said:

    Without wanting to sound like I’m protecting that thug called Suren Khachatryan, I have to, in all honesty say that these types of incidents are being politically exploited by Washington-based organizations and activists against Armenia. We all know that Armenia has sociopolitical problems, as do all nation’s on God’s earth. This stuff has gone way beyond merely fighting corruption. These types of stories are in fact being used as part of the active information war against Armenia. Shock and awe articles like this are meant to bring out the “Linda Rose” in all Armenians. Imperial interests are using various subversive individuals and agencies to spread anger, hopelessness and despair throughout Armenian society. Naturally, their excuse is always to raise “awareness” or “fight corruption”. But the result is always the further alienation of an already alienated diaspora. Their intent is to break the Armenian spirit, after which they will break the Armenian nation. Armenia is going through natural growing pains. When addressing these matters Armenian activists need to keep the fight in Armenia, they need to keep the fight against individuals (not the government) and they need to keep the fight free of individuals and organizations connected to the political West. In other words, fight the thugs in Armenia without fighting for the thugs in Washington.

    • bigmoustache said:

      i dont see ‘cleaning house’ as something subversive. if these are facts then it doesnt matter whos saying them. cleaning up armenia will strenghten armenia not weaken it.
      before looking outside at our nations enemies, first look at yourself and take care of that problem. stop embarrasing us!

      • Haroutik said:

        Armenians need to be “cleaning house” WITHOUT Washington’s help. Every single one of Armenia’s “rights activists”, “independent journalists” and a lot of its “political activists” are directly and indirectly working for Washington via Western NGOs. They are using Armenia’s natural growing pains to undermine the system of government there because it is allied to Russia. The region in question is on the verge of explosion. This is no time to tamper with the system of government in Armenia. We have seen what Washington-based NGOs have been doing – in the name of fighting corruption and promoting human rights – in places like Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria… We also know what they are seeking in the Caucasus. You people seriously need to wake up.

  9. John Markarian said:

    The government of Armenia is sadly run by a bunch of Baku and NKR Armenians who mixed and intermarried with Azeris and were genetically Turkified. They may speak Armenian but they think like a Turk which is the being violent. There are genetic studies proving this. I recommend reading ”
    Testing hypotheses of language replacement in the Caucasus: evidence from the Y-chromosome.
    Nasidze I, Sarkisian T, Kerimov A, Stoneking M.Hum Genet. 2003 Mar;112(3):255-61. Epub 2002 Dec 14.

    Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Inselstrasse 22, 04103, Leipzig, Germany. [email protected]

    A previous analysis of mtDNA variation in the Caucasus found that Indo-European-speaking Armenians and Turkic-speaking Azerbaijanians were more closely related genetically to other Caucasus populations (who speak Caucasian languages) than to other Indo-European or Turkic groups, respectively. Armenian and Azerbaijanian therefore represent language replacements, possibly via elite dominance involving primarily male migrants, in which case genetic relationships of Armenians and Azerbaijanians based on the Y-chromosome should more closely reflect their linguistic relationships.

    • Edward Demian said:

      I have been bringing this up for a while now, and you are the only one to mention the above facts. The Azerys are acculturated Armenians, as are the Anatolian Turks. To be mor exact, Whe I say Armenians I mean Hays. The Hays, have 10 to 12% Armeno/Phyrigian genes. The Anatolian Turks, of those that have any Turkish genes, they have less than 10%. The Assyrians, same thing. They are nearly indistinguishable from the Armenians. So we are all Armenians. How do you convince the Turks of that, and use it in our favor?

  10. ArdeVast Atheian said:

    Regardless of how evil those Armenian government thugs are, they are all sacred and precious to me because they are still after all, Armenians. Victims or perpetrators, they are all my relatives. I will always mourn what the victims have suffered but will always deal with the perpetrators patiently and lovingly. I will always oppose their vices but never force my ways upon them. My role must remain a minor one because I am not living there. As an outsider I must always remain loving, positive and constructive with all sides.

    • ArdeVast Atheian said:

      The tone and attacks on Jews people in the above letters is disturbing considering that the same policy and denial by the American government and politicians has not engendered similar antagonism towards Americans. The Jews, isolated as they are in the Middle East, have double the reason to take their desperate stand.
      Let’s not get carried away by the Jewish spokespeople that have opposed us. Most of the politicians who have actively supported our cause have been Jews. The fact that most political movements in the world, both in the pro or the con are led by Jews, attests how gifted, capable and driven they are.
      Jews and Armenians have suffered the same unfortunate fate and will always eventually reveal their sympathies for each other’s plight and fate.

      • Edward Demian said:

        Absolutely. It will not benefit Armenia or Armenians anywhere to display anti-semitic behavior. After all, what have they really done to us. Eighteen century, economic competition between us is hardly the basis for today’s politics. No one speaks of the Circassians now days. But they were instrumental in the physical removal of the Armenians from their land, and now occupy it. Save you racial hatred for those that deserve it. The Jews are coming around to the Genocide recognition issue. The have to tip toe carefully, for they realize that, “today the Armenians, tomorrow, it will be them;” Again.

        • Jivan bardiz said:

          We need to change all administration in Armenia /to make criminal accusation and biggest criminal they part of governement like ex president Robert Kotcharian and all his gang / and until that no telethon or any money have to send in armenia they not humains

          • Jivan bardiz said:

            Also turks make génocide but biggest is make now in armenia betwen them armenian agains armenia all for money the countrie is control by gang of gamler no spirit

  11. Pingback: Liska’s No More, But for How Long? |