Late in the evening of March 5th, when the public was awaiting the results of the second round of the presidential election, Public TV announced that law enforcement had discovered the person responsible for the December 28, 2002 assassination of journalist Tigran Naghdalyan, Chairman of the Board of Public Television and Radio.
On March 6th, Artak Vartazaryan, head of the information department of the Armenian Police, stated that six people had been arrested and another two were being sought. On March 7th, the office of the Prosecutor General provided official information on one of the men sought in connection with Naghdalyan’s murder. He is Hovhannes Seryozhayi Harutyunyan, nicknamed “Aper” (Bro’), a resident of Yerevan, born in 1955. It is likely that the whereabouts of the second man are known-he may have already been arrested.
The official newspaper of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Yerkir, published information related to the March 6th developments in the Naghdalyan case, stating that the man sought, Hovhannes Harutyunyan, was the first cousin of Aram Sarkissyan, member of the Republic Party’s Political Council. We remind you that Sarkissyan is a brother of Prime Minister Vasgen Sarkissyan, slain in the Parliament in 1999. But Aram Sarkissyan promptly refuted the allegation, stating that he is unrelated to anyone sought in the case, and has no connection to Naghdalyan’s murder. According to Yerkir, one of the men arrested is named John Harutyunyan.
He has confessed to killing Tigran Naghdalyan. Although there has been no official announcement, we have been able to ascertain that all of the men arrested are residents of Nagorno Karabakh, and they fought in the Karabakh war. Five are from the city of Martuni, one from Hadrut. One is employed by the Martuni Military Prosecutor’s Office, which means he is a military serviceman. Three of them have prior convictions. The other men arrested in connection with Naghdalyan’s murder are John Harutyunyan’s brother Janik Harutyunyan, Samvel Abrahamyan, nicknamed “Tsav” (pain), Felix Arustamyan (who previously served in Army Reconnaissance), and Hovik Avagyan. We haven’t yet been able to learn the name of the sixth man. John Harytyunyan’s other brother, Rajik, was killed in the war.
Residents of Martuni testify that John Harutyuyan was so poor that he couldn’t send his children to school because they had no clothes to wear. He has four children. He was once convicted of farm-animal theft. In general, all five men lived badly until the beginning of 2003. Then, in January and February, their lives changed dramatically, and they all bought cars. In a small town like Martuni, things like that don’t go unnoticed. One of the people I talked to said John Harutyunyan came over to his house and gave him a few hundred dollars, saying, “Go ahead, buy some food or whatever.”
In an interview with Radio Liberty, Tigran Naghdalyan’s brother Samvel and his father Hovhannes said they had seen the suspect and they recognized him. Hovhannes Naghdalyan said he had seen him near their building several times. Samvel Naghdalyan, who came home twenty minutes before the killing, saw a stranger running out of the doorway of their building, and confirmed that it was same man they showed him in the police station.
Who is the leader of the group of criminals? Most likely it’s Samvel “Tsav” Abrahamyan. He is the father of two children, and has two convictions, once for beating the chief of the local municipality and the second time for escaping from prison and causing bodily harm to prison staff. In February 1992, the Vilis vehicle Abrahamyan was riding in exploded on a mine near the Azerbaijani village of Amiranlar. He lost his leg, and injured one eye. He ran for mayor of Martuni in the last election.
According to our information, the TT-model pistol used to kill Naghdalyan was registered in the Martuni Interior Department, meaning it was a service weapon of the Interior Ministry.
But the gun was in the possession of Samvel Abrahamyan for two months. It’s not clear how Abrahamyan came by the weapon- that, like the other details, was impossible to verify. We have other information on this gun- it was used in another killing. It’s possible that this investigation will have some unpredictable developments, which may shed light on another notorious case.
How did law-enforcement find the group? One month ago, a representative of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Armenia said crimes like the murder of Tigran Naghdalyan either go unsolved, or suddenly some information appears that makes it possible to track the perpetrator. This is probably what happened in this case. Law-enforcement officials found the group that committed the murder by chance. There are two different versions going around of what happened. As we mentioned, the members of the group had recently bought themselves cars, and for the past two months had been having a constant party. Their behavior was so eye-catching that it attracted the attention of officers of the law. They were arrested as dangerous before the Armenian presidential election, and confessed to the killing.
According to the other version, Hovik Avagyan sometimes brought meat into Armenia to sell, and an automatic rifle and a pistol were found in his car at a checkpoint, by chance. It was later discovered that that was the pistol used to kill Tigran Naghdalyan.
Our sources tell us that John Harutyunyan confessed that according to the agreement, they received part of the money before the killing. The rest was to be transferred after the killing, but they never got it.
It’s impossible to be sure of the exact amount, but the figure going around is $100,000, $30,000 in advance.
Who is John Harutyunyan? I met him in the regional center of Martuni, in Nagorno Karabakh, in April 1992. The town was half-occupied. The Azerbaijani village of Amiranlar was 500 meters away. Mughanlu was a little farther, then Kuropatkino. The road to Stepanakert, which passed by the Azerbaijani village of Gharadaghlu, was closed. The self-defense units of Martuni were just forming. At that time, Artik’s group was well known in Martuni. Artik had fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In Karabakh, he had been wounded in the leg in one of the clashes, and one leg was eight centimeters shorter than the other. Artik has been in Russian for a few years now. John was part of Artik’s group. The guys in this group were best known for using drugs. After the cease-fire, several of them stayed in the army. The other guys had nothing to do. They took drugs all the time. In March 1992, one of the guys, who later died of an overdose, offered me hashish.
According to my information, the Prosecutor General has decided to extradite Artik from Russia. It’s possible that the second man that Artak Vardazaryan, head of the information department of the Armenian Police, mentioned on March 6th, is Artik. He is reported to have been in Yerevan in December.
It’s likely that the perpetrator doesn’t know anything about who ordered the assassination. Most probably, Hovhannes Harutyunyan, who is at large, was the middleman in the deal. Either he took the $70,000 and fled Armenia, or he has already been liquidated himself. It makes sense that whoever ordered the killing would do anything to silence the man who made the deal. In this case, we’ll never know who ordered the assassination.
Who gave the order to shoot? Without the answer to that question, we’ll never know why they killed Tigran Naghdalyan.