Wednesday, 26 September

Ashot Manucharyan had become a target

At 12:50 p.m. I was standing near the archway of a building on the alley by 6 Moscovyan Street, where last April 22 nd , three thugs had lain in wait for Ashot Manucharyan. It was at the this time that the three men assaulted the prominent political figure-in broad daylight, at the intersection of Tumanyan and Moscovyan Streets-in the center of Yerevan.

Manucharyan identified one of his attackers - Vrezh Osipyan. Osipyan denies being involved. When he was questioned at the police department, Osipyan insisted that he didn't know Manucharyan and had nothing to do with the attack.

Manucharyan is refusing to cooperate with the police. He says that identifying Osipyan in a photograph was not a decisive event, explaining that he and his supporters had received information on the attack from two different wings of the government. Subsequently, their own investigation had revealed the identity of the attackers. It was only afterwards that Manucharyan recognized one of them, Osipyan, in the photograph.

"I didn't notice them, since there are usually guys from Grand Candy hanging around the archway next to their office," Manucharyan recalls. "They all look alike, and that's why I didn't paid any attention to them-I thought they were those guys. I was talking to Rubik Khurshudyan when Gayane Markosyan came up to us; she was going to the meeting of the Forum of Intellectuals, too. Rubik left and Gayane and I went into the archway, and then somebody came up to me and asked if he could have a few words with me, or something like that, I don't remember. [Gayane and I] both sensed that something strange was going on. I said that he should come to the office, and we moved toward the entrance of the office. I didn't know they were going to attack me, but I realized something unpleasant was going to happen."

"We were talking as we went into the archway," remembers Gayane Markosyan, chairman of the NGO Free Platform for Civil Initiatives. "Three heavy-set men with hoods pulled over their heads walked up behind us and said to me, 'You go ahead; we have something to talk about.' Manucharyan said, 'Let's go to the office and talk,' and we kept walking. The moment we left the archway, two of them attacked Ashot and the third one pulled me away."

"The first blow came from behind," Manucharyan recounts. "I remember feeling the blows, but I thought I was hit once or twice, I probably lost consciousness."

Gayane Markosyan says, "They beat Ashot savagely, and then they went away."

Manucharyan hadn't left his home for three days prior to the attack; he was nursing an illness. "I was sick," he explains, "They called from the office and told me that some of our people had come from Kapan and wanted to meet with me. I agreed with Vardan to meet at the office of the Forum of Intellectuals, and the guys from Kapan were at Garnik's office, 100 meters away, so I said that I had something to do for five or ten minutes, and that after that I would call them. So, we only talked about my going to the office over the phone."

Manucharyan and his supporters believe that the phone was tapped, because that was the only way anyone could have found out that he was going to leave the house, and exactly what time he would be at the Forum office.

Manucharyan was beaten for three minutes. His attackers used brass knuckles to break the bones in his face, they kicked him in the back, and then they jumped into a Niva and drove off.

Hrair Ulubabyan was at the Forum office at the time. "I was sitting near the telephone, " he recounts. "Fifteen minute before the attack, there was a phone call for Ashot, and I said that he wasn't in. The caller asked when he was coming in, and I said, 'In half an hour.' It was around one o'clock when Gayane burst into the room screaming that Ashot was being beaten. There were three of us in the room - Vardan Khachatryan, Lyova and I. We ran downstairs and saw Ashot lying on the ground, soaked in blood and almost unconscious. One of the guys ran and called an ambulance and the police. The police operator told him he had to go to the police department and submit a written request, in order for them to take up the case. So he said that the victim was Ashot Manucharyan, former Interior Minister and so on. The ambulance came very quickly and took Ashot to the Nor Nork Emergency Hospital.

"Some two hours later a woman came and washed the archway. The investigators came in the evening when it was getting dark. They looked around and said there were no signs of blood."

"In actuality, no investigatory action was taken," says Garnik Margaryan, a member of the board of the Forum of Intellectuals. "What happened to Ashot was attempted murder. They had chosen this method," says.

We have visited the spot several times on different days, always at around one o'clock . It's a busy intersection with lots of people walking by and cars driving back and forth. It would be impossible for anyone who stood there any length of time to go unnoticed, and the heavy-set, shaved-headed men who attacked Ashot Manucharyan would have a hard time escaping notice anywhere.

We asked Garnik Margaryan why Ashot Manucharyan hasn't made a statement at the police department. Margaryan responded, "We have plenty of reasons for not trusting the law-enforcement agencies. We are convinced that they're one of the organizers. And we got this information, as strange as it may seem, from government agencies."

In the months before he was attacked, Ashot Manucharyan had been meeting with different government officials, politicians, public figures, and intellectuals to talk about the crises in the country and ways to overcome it. He discussed all his meetings with the members of the board of the Forum of Intellectuals. "A few days after the attack, President Robert Kocharyan told reporters that he had known about these meetings," Garnik Margaryan noted. "He neglected to mention that two of them had been organized at his instruction."

To be continued ...

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