By request, this is a post on a current issue in Armenia: 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.
As legal or institutional punishment is extremely unlikely,* the people have organized to punish Hayrapetyan. Immediately after the Avetyan’s death there was a 2,000 person candle-light vigil (someone present told me that it was closer to 500 people). There is a boycott of Hanrapetyan’s restaurants and products. There is also an internet petition to have the United European Football Association, an institution Hayrapetyan can’t bribe, to remove Hayrapetyan from the presidency of the Armenian Football Federation. Yesterday, there was great news that Hayrapetyan decided to step down from his seat in the National Assembly. Realistically, he Hayrapetyan likely stepped down because of pressure from the President than from the people. Regardless, this action hasn’t ended the protests and simply emboldened them to demand criminal punishment.
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.
Some may feel that this activist pressure (or, derogatorily, “vigilante justice”) is inappropriate and to let the organs of the state function. This viewpoint ignores the power dynamics of Armenia. As an oligarch and Member of Parliament, Hayrapetyan has financial, political and physical resources available to him. While the new Chief of Police is significantly improving the professionalism of the police, they’re simply not in a position to effectively restrain an Oligarch that remains in the favor of the other elites. The only way that the people’s voices would be heard is through direct action such as protests or boycotts. Also, as evidenced by the brutality of his guards, I’m not concerned that Hayrapetyan’s life is in danger.
* While the police are investigating, the chances that Ruben Hayrapetyan will spend a day in jail is very unlikely. Even in the US, for Ruben to be criminally liable for the killing, the police have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the guards were acting under his orders (either specific orders to beat the doctors up or general orders to “rough up” enemies of Hayrapetyan). Unless the bodyguards turn against Hayrapetyan, there is almost no chance for that to happen. In the US, the FBI could offer them a new life and witness project, but there’s no way the police here can do that. The bodyguards know that if they stay silent, Hayrapetyan will take care of their families and them once they get out and that if they turn against him, he can make their lives hell. Positively, the Prosecutor is willing to listen to the protestors, but that still doesn’t mean he’ll be able to connect Hayrapetyan to the crime.
Addendum: There is a video of the march available. Also, opposition Members of Parliament including Prosperous Armenia have called for a special commission to investigate the murder. It’s not clear whether the Rule of Law party or the dominant Republicans will join them.