Harsnakar case: Society turns against oligarchy in demanding fair probe of young man’s violent death

Harsnakar case: Society turns against oligarchy in demanding fair probe of young man’s violent death


On Sunday, July 1, 39-year-old lieutenant-colonel Vardan Samvelyan reportedly entered the Harsnakar restaurant complex in Yerevan armed with 600 grams of TNT, hand grenades and a knife, threatening he would blow up the restaurant. Samvelyan did not carry out his threat, but instead surrendered to the police three hours later.

The man was arrested only a few hours after a candlelight vigil action near Harsnakar in memory of military doctor Vahe Avetyan, who died on June 29 of head injuries in hospital without regaining consciousness. Doctors had struggled for his life for more than ten days.

The June 17 incident at Yerevan’s Harsnakar restaurant, which is owned by the family of Republican MP and head of the Armenian Football Federation Ruben Hayrapetyan, shook the entire country. Beside 33-year-old Avetyan, a father of two, among those beaten up were four of his fellow military doctors - Edgar Mikoyan, Arkady Aghajanyan, Garik Soghomonyan, Artak Bayadyan. They were also hospitalized, but their injuries were not life-threatening.

A fight broke out -- purportedly over the dress code -- between the security personnel and the military doctors, who were spending the night at the luxury restaurant. Media allege that Hayrapetyan had given orders to “teach” the group of military doctors a lesson.

Public protests began still before the young doctor died in hospital. Some activists on Facebook and other online social networking sites have called for a boycott of the Harsnakar restaurant and start protest actions with the demand of stripping Hayrapetyan of his parliamentary powers and privileges. Many came with placards and armbands that said “I Am Vahe Avetyan”.

After the death of the doctor protests left cyberspace and continued in the street. On Saturday night about 2,000 people went to Harsnakar to stage a silent candlelight vigil. A wedding party was taking place within the premises of the restaurant at that time. The next day a protest was staged at the Presidential Palace from where the participants marched to the government building and the building of the Prosecutor-General’s Office. In the evening many citizens took part in the requiem service for Vahe Avetyan.

Among those taking part in the actions were public and political figures, including representatives of the Heritage, Dashnaktsutyun, Free Democrats parties, the Armenian National Congress (ANC), civil activists, environmentalists as well as ordinary citizens. They were holding banners with different appeals – the demand for unyoking the oligarchy dominated, however.

Head of the ANC parliamentary faction Levon Zurabyan blamed what he described as a criminal regime for what happened. “Ruben Hayrapetyan cannot be our colleague in Parliament. To avoid such cases we need to achieve the overthrow of the criminal regime and the resignation of [president] Serzh Sargsyan.”

“By his death Vahe defied all our citizens: do we continue to be slaves or it will serve as an occasion to rise up as one person and say – never again?” member of the initiative David Sanasaryan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Saturday. “Those who were beating [the military doctors] were not Harsnakar security personnel, but were bodyguards of Ruben Hayrapetyan ... In a normal country Ruben Hayrapetyan would be summoned for questioning every day,” added the activist.

Online newspaper Tert.am asked Hayrapetyan to comment on the situation. The pro-government lawmaker has been refusing to give interviews and on July 1, together with President Serzh Sargsyan left for Kiev, Ukraine, to watch the final of the European soccer championship there.

In a rare interview he said: “Do you want me to say that all those responsible will be punished? Of course, they will be punished in all strictness of the law. But so what? It is, of course, impossible to get Vahe back… What can I say to his family? You cannot even imagine my feelings...”

An action of protest over the Harsnakar beatings also took place in Los Angeles on June 30. The participants of the event called for a fair investigation and punishment of all those responsible for the brutality and murder.