YEREVAN (Armenian Weekly)—“At the moment, my mind is blank. I have only one thought—that everything must be done to prove my son Tigran’s innocence,” Syunik Governor Suren Khachatryan told a journalist on June 13.
Tigran, 19, is reportedly being held at the Nubarashen penitentiary. He and his father’s bodyguard, Zarzand Nikoghosyan, were arrested following the murder of former mayoral candidate Avetik Budaghyan, 43, on June 1. They have been charged with murder (under Article 104 section 2 of Armenia’s criminal code) and the illegal possession of weapons (Article 235 section 1).
Governor Khachatryan, whose name has been linked with violent incidents in the southern province, applied to leave his post until the conclusion of the preliminary investigation, although the law does not allow that. The government accepted his resignation on June 6.
The shooting also left Artak Budaghyan, the brother of the deceased and a commander of a Karabagh army battalion, seriously injured. He was shot three times according to his doctors. Nikolay Abrahamyan, a relative of Governor Khachatryan and one of his bodyguards, also suffered injuries.
“[Budaghyan] was armed and he attacked. [My son] defended himself,” the governor told a reporter.
During the night of the incident, the Budaghyan brothers were reportedly at a lakeside party attended by dignitaries including Karabagh President Bako Sahakyan; Governor Khachatryan and his entourage were also there. An argument between Khachatryan and Avetik Budaghyan that night has been cited as the reason behind the shooting.
Governor office interprets events
On June 5, the governor’s office published a version of the events to, as it claims, set the record straight and counter “doubtful” accounts of what happened—accounts that aim to “distort reality,” “mislead the public,” and build tensions in Syunik and, specifically, Goris.
According to officials at the governor’s office who reviewed the security tape from June 1, his two sons came home at 10 p.m. in separate cars; the governor himself returned at 10:16 p.m., and does not appear in the tape thereafter. At 10:36 p.m., Avetik Budaghyan drove up to the house. The two sons, their driver, and two bodyguards approached him. They talked for 2-3 minutes; tensions ran high. The governor’s wife, Loretta Barseghyan, walked over, and soon Budaghyan drove away. At 11:06 p.m., Budaghyan returned to the house. The same five men and Loretta approached him again. A few minutes later, a second car approached. Commander Artak Budaghyan got out of the car and according to the governor’s office—opened fire on the group. The group dispersed, while Loretta moved towards Artak Budaghyan and grabbed his gun, in an effort to either take it away or prevent him from shooting. Budaghyan managed to get away from Loretta. Avetik Budaghyan then attempted to stop his brother, but both fell over. Avetik, visibly hurt, stood up. Nikolay Abrahamyan, the governor’s bodyguard, jumped him from behind and took away his gun. Avetik then pulled out another gun and fired at Nikolay, who fell to the ground and stayed there. Avetik tried to move up the driveway, but shots were fired at him; the shooters, however, weren’t captured on tape. Avetik pulled back, fired one more shot towards the gate, and fell to the ground. (The governor’s office fails to mention here that Avetik Budaghyan, it appears, was shot in the back.) During this entire time, Artak Budaghyan remained on the ground. By 11:30 p.m., the injured were taken to the hospital.
To view footage from the security cameras published by A1+, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTy4AYsMhfU.
Justice denied ushers in more violence
In the interim, former Deputy Governor Ara Dolunts has been appointed as acting governor. The Armenian media has responded to the governor’s temporary leave—and the possibility of a fair trial—with cynicism.
“Suren Khachatryan doesn’t picture himself holding a different position and he is hoping that, after the conclusion of the preliminary investigation and after he presents the incident as a case of self-defense, he is once again going to get away with it,” wrote Jamanag Daily on June 13.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Parliamentary faction leader Armen Rustamian has attributed the violence to the failures of the justice system, which by its very failure encourages citizens to take justice into their own hands.
“There is an environment of impunity in the Syunik Province, and naturally this is not the first time that we hear of such things,” Rustamian was quoted as saying. “There is no end in sight for this, because a real justice system is yet to be established, so that people can resolve their disputes in a lawful manner.” Speaking in parliament on June 14, he urged his colleagues to follow the case closely so that the guilty can be brought to justice.