Amidst a growing public outcry against cozy ties between Armenia's government and business elite, Armenian police on Tuesday claimed that Armenian Football Federation boss Ruben Hayrapetian was not at his Yerevan restaurant Harsnakar when 33-year-old army doctor Vahe Avetian met with a beating there on June 17 that cost him his life.
Criminal Investigations Inspectorate official Arsen Ayvavsian claimed that Hayrapetian, who was interrogated last week, had arrived at the restaurant a few hours before the violence broke out, and had stayed only briefly.
The announcement will most likely only add further fuel to public outrage at Avetian's June 29 death and the brutal beating of two other army doctors with him, allegedly at the hands of Hayrapetian's bodyguards.
As Global Voices Caucasus Editor Onnik Krikorian noted, "[s]uch incidents are not uncommon in Armenia . . . but the latest example comes as the power of the oligarchs in the economically challenged republic is under increasing scrutiny . . ."
Rights activists, opposition groups and many ordinary Armenians contend that Hayrapetian is criminally responsible for the death and beatings and should be held account. Charging that a cover-up is underway, they have petitioned embassies in Yerevan to reject any visa application received from the businessman, who has interests in a variety of economic sectors.
Hayrapetian on July 3 resigned from his seat in parliament for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia after a discussion with party boss President Serzh Sargsyan, a onetime defense minister with, arguably, a keen grasp of the military mood about Avetian's death. Hayrapetian cited his sense of "moral responsibility" as the reason for his resignation.
One parliamentarian from the opposition Armenian National Congress dismissed the comments as "crocodile tears," Tert.am reported.
Sargsyan has appeared to be trying to placate critics -- in the run-up to Armenia's February 2013 elections, public protests about a government pal are not desirable -- but that, apparently, does not stretch to the extent of tolerating street gatherings outside Hayrapetian's restaurant.
On July 8, police clashed with individuals who planned to hold a candlelight vigil for Avetian at the restaurant. Don't expect such incidents to cause caution to gain ground over anger, however. As the Footprints blog, duly cited by Global Voices, pointed out: "A great number of people are starting to rise from their long slumber."