One week has passed since the assault accusations against Syunik governor Surik Khachatryan were revealed to the public. On Monday, November 14, while leaving the Marriott Hotel in Yerevan Silva Hambardzumian, a businesswoman, was allegedly hit on the head by Khachatryan, who later denied any wrongdoing. Naturally, no one working at the hotel saw anything, not even the doorman apparently. The parliamentarian Khachik Manukian who happened to be there and purportedly witnessed everything according to Hambardzumian later said that he had arrived on the scene just moments after the incident of violence took place. Now the Special Investigative Service (SIS) is looking into the matter, although its unlikely it will hold Khachatryan accountable.
The issue stems from an allegation made by Hambardzumian that equipment worth 100 million dram had essentially been stolen from her mine then found its way to a different mine owned by Khachatryan, and she passed blame on him, who besides being a regional governor is a feared thug (and, according to former defense minister Vasken Manukian, an “uneducated criminal”).
Khachatryan is no stranger to controversy. He is believed to have embezzled about $1.5 million in state funds in 2008, as determined by the Audit Chamber of the National Assembly, and got away with it.
Apparently Khachatryan is well connected to President Serge Sarkisian and has even been described as his “protégé.” He apparently ran an election campaign for the president’s brother Alexander in 2007. His relations with former president Robert Kocharian are also excellent. For these reasons alone, there is a very good chance that he will not face prosecution and walk away scot-free.
Not unless, of course, the president wants to add to the credibility of his legitimacy. President Sarkisian has been cleaning house lately, forcing several high-level officials to resign. In the last month both the Yerevan mayor Karen Karapetyan and National Assembly president Hovik “Moog” Abrahamyan stepped down (the press insists they left their posts because of their ties to Robert Kocharian, who supposedly wants to run for president in 2013). A year ago Sarkisian fired then mayor Gagik Beglaryan for slapping around one of his assistants. The president not only has to give the impression that he is not tolerating any nonsense from any of his officials, he also has to show the world that governmental corruption or ethical misconduct cannot be tolerated on any level.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian claimed that the authorities are waiting for a final determination from SIS before action is taken against Khachatryan. But the right thing for the president to do would be to replace the governor. The accusation of assault in a public setting is reason enough to fire him.
The position of regional governor should be an honor to hold. But for Khachatryan, his post is nothing more but a conduit to do unchecked business and even get away with misappropriating state funds. President Sarkisian, do the Armenian citizenry good service by promptly sacking Khachatryan and make sure that his replacement will actually respect his governing role. Armenia certainly doesn’t need another mafia boss in a position of power.