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Armenia: Public Outcry Over Killing Tests Oligarch's Power

Virtually monopolizing economic power since the late 1990s, the controversial reign of Armenia's oligarchs might well be challenged following the June 17 beating of three army doctors in a reported disagreement over dress codes in a restaurant owned by businessman, Member of Parliament, and Armenian Football Federation President, Ruben Hayrapetyan.

More commonly known by his ‘Nemets Rubo’ nickname, the incident outraged many when one of the victims of Hayrapetyan's security guards, Major Vahe Avetyan, died from his injuries on June 29.

Such incidents are not uncommon in Armenia, especially after the 2001 killing of a customer in a downtown cafe by then President Robert Kocharian's bodyguards resulted only in a suspended sentence for manslaughter, but the latest example comes as the power of the oligarchs in the economically-challenged republic is under increasing scrutiny both at home and abroad.

Coincidentally, Gabriel Armas-Cardona  examined the country's oligarchy just days before the brutal attack on his blog Human Rights Work in Yerevan:

[...] The basic idea is that when the Soviet Union broke apart, everything was up for grabs because of privatization. Whoever could claim the sugar factory (through dealing or violence) automatically becomes the monopoly force that everyone must pay homage to if they want sugar. Without capital for new businesses and without rule of law to stop oligarchs from crushing opposition, those oligarchs have become very very rich.

[...]

[...] Some of the oligarchs have realized that their reign based on closed markets and borders can’t last forever. [...] Suddenly, oligarchs continuing the old pattern of control are on the defensive and taking hits because of it.

Following the incident, the same blog commented on this particular case:

[...] The bodyguards of one of the oligarchs, Ruben Hayrapetyan, brutally beat up military doctors in one of Hayrapetyan’s restaurants on June 17. One of those doctors, Vahe Avetyan, died on Friday the 29th. Many people are angry.

To everyone, this seems like yet another crime committed by an oligarch for which there will be no justice. To the older/Hayastansi crowd, the response is fatalism: this is Armenia and this is why people want to leave. To the younger/activist/Diasporan crowd, the response is seething rage. I have heard multiple people wish a gruesome death to Hayrapetyan. The night that Avetyan died, a lieutenant colonel went to the restaurant with explosives threatening to destroy the building but later gave himself up to police negotiators.

[...]

To get a sense of how bad this guy is, just look at what he and his guards have done. Hayrapetyan demonstrated his contempt for everyone beneath him in public statements made to journalists. He openly says that he took ballots at gunpoint, insults the intelligence of female journalists, and tells a journalist that if she was raped by Hayrapetyan’s son, it would be a good thing because she’d have strong babies. His guards have also recently demonstrated their contempt for the law by beating a bus driver that dared to “sidestep” the bodyguard’s vehicle. The bodyguards yelled at the driver saying “who are you to pass me” and wouldn’t let the driver go to the hospital afterwards.

This video uploaded by youtube user aramanoogian on June 30, demanding justice for the slain doctor, has already been viewed over 33,000 times:

The Unzipped blog considered that Hayrapetyan would not be called to account:

Although initial reports say that the beating was done by the direct order of ‘Nemets’, I have no doubts he will be spared of responsibility. Some may lose their job in a showcase of ‘punishment’. Like countless of times before, they will find a scapegoat among thugs who beat up doctors. He would claim ‘full responsibility’. Needless to say, there will be no mention of orders from the boss. Quite the contrary, they may even attempt at presenting the case as an “accident” and/or they will blame the victims. The main scapegoat will be arrested, tried. His family and himself will be supported financially and otherwise by the boss and perhaps some time soon, under whatever excuse, he will get out of the jail.

CivilNetTV uploaded a video on youtube of a candlelight vigil [hy] for the slain doctor:

Later, when Avetyan's death was reported, the Footprints blog commented on the development:

Some sources are saying that not only was a bodyguard directly implicated in Vahe’s beating, it was Hayrapetyan’s personal bodyguard himself, Garik Markaryan. This means Hayrapetyan was likely on the premises at the time since he doesn’t go anywhere without protection. [...] My prediction is that the bodyguard will either get some kind of slap on the wrist or be found not guilty on the grounds of having committed an act of self-defense. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll get some jail time to put society at ease that indeed justice had been served. But given Armenia’s track record and the degree to which how utterly powerful these oligarchs have become whereby they can resort to severely beating someone in the clear light of day at a public venue, knowing they can get away with it, I don’t know how realistic that is.

Even so, Hayrapetyan resigned from his seat in parliament on July 3, although Gabriel of the Human Rights Work in Yerevan blog considered this more likely “because of pressure from the President than from the people.” Certainly, Unzipped was far from satisfied:

‘Nemets Rubo’ resigned from being MP. [...] Of course, this is simply a damage limitation exercise by Hayrapetyan (and Armenia president Serj Sargsyan), as a consequence of ongoing protest actions by activists coordinated via Facebook. Right one and unprecedented in Armenia, but not enough at all and should merely be the first step.

He should resign from the Football Association too [...] I want to see Armenia national football team disassociated from a person who is full of hatred. [...]

The blog also noted that an online petition requesting UEFA and FIFA demand Hayrapetyan's resignation as President of the Armenian Football Federation, along with a Facebook Page calling on diplomatic missions in Armenia declare him persona non grata, has also been set up.

Meanwhile, Footprints asks what can be done to change the situation while noting in another post that ‘people are starting to rise from their long slumber.’

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