Outside Eye: Maybe Grigoryan should have been a mayor instead of an attorney

You may have noticed a decrease in the frequency of essays appearing on this page. The reason may be this:

After living in Armenia for almost five years now, having an “Outside” eye is a position more challenging to maintain than in the days when I was still trying to learn how to say “shnorhakalutyun”.

As familiar as living here has become – even for some of us for whom it is still an unlikely address – God help us if some things become acceptable and tolerated and “normal” simply because they are repeated so often.

I’m talking, this time, about the arrest of attorney Vahe Grigoryan.

Read “False Charges?” for the details that have put Grigoryan behind bars. Most significantly, the conviction has taken the attorney off Buzand Street, where he was a group of common citizens’ voice against wrongful treatment at the hands of authorities which – with the Grigoryan case – appears to include the courts.

Let us be clear about something: Urban renewal is a fact that even the most nostalgic Armenian must tolerate if this place is to transform from a Eurasian village, into a European capital. ( I’m not suggesting that defines “progress”; I’m just saying it’s the way the world works.)

Sympathetic as I am, this, nonetheless, is not a defense of the Buzand residents’ claims. For that matter, I’m not even defending Grigoryan, since I don’t know the man. (Nor does it impress me that his attorneys’ best defense of his innocence is that he has the presumed endorsement of California “Governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

Personalities or social advocacy aside, can somebody please help this “Outsider” understand something: How is it that this country’s judicial system can allow one man to be elected mayor while behind bars for murder, and also denying an attorney the right to continue representing his clients while he is jailed on (arguable) fraud charges?

Some background:

On September 24 in the town of Nor Hajn (near Yerevan), Armen Keshishyan shot Ashot Mkhitaryan dead in front of several witnesses that included two police officers. If it matters – and it probably does -- Keshishyan killed the man with a pistol that had been given him as a gift by Armenia’s Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan. (Turns out, by the way, that the PM has handed out a lot of pistols to pals, according to his ministerial prerogative. And it is not the first time one of the gifts has been used in a crime.)

On October 9, Keshishyan, known, if it matters – and it probably does – to have the support of People of Power, was re-elected Nor Hajn’s mayor, in an election called “the most peaceful in the entire district” by the election committee chairman . (The mayor/murderer, of his own accord, had the good graces to resign several days later.)


After Grigoryan was arrested, in early September, four families whom he had represented in their complaints against land-developing oligarchs (including high-ranking government officials), appealed to the Ministry of Justice to allow Grigoryan to continue his defense of their claims. Their application was denied.

Quirky world, ain’t it?

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people here for whom both situations make sad sense. Simply: Law means little, when its application would hinder the ambitions of the powerful. Further: Law, here (and, to be fair, in other places that might even include Mr. Schwarzenegger’s domain), is not a safeguard for the innocent, but an affordable weapon for the rich because of its manipulability.

And in Armenia, abuse of power has become so common, that it is accepted as normal.

A mayor, using a gift from the Prime Minister, becomes a murderer. He is allowed to be re-elected 15 days later and serve until he, himself, decides to step down.

A social activist attorney representing clients who are disgruntled at People of Power, gets locked up on questionable charges that are themselves two years old. He is denied the right to continue representing his clients.

I guess that’s normal.