Saturday, 22 September

A day in life of a Mercedes ML, license plate 70 SO 600

February 1994. The Horadiz region of Azerbaijan . An Armenian military formation was counter-attacking the enemy and moving forward under the command of Samvel Karapetyan. Film director Karen Gevorgyan and cameraman Gagik Harutiunyan were with one of the units, documenting military operations. The Armenian forces suffered many losses that day, including soldiers in the military unit that the filmmakers were quartered with. During the war, I met the men on different battlefronts. After the war Karen Gevorgyan used the footage they took to make a documentary called Dilemma and a ten-part series called The War Without Comment.

September 2004, ten years after the end of the war. Yerevan , Armenia -in the neighborhood of the Spandaryan School near the Kentron District Police Department.

"On September 22 nd , Karen Gevorgyan and I drove out of the street next to the school, toward Grigor Lusavorich Street . A Mercedes wagon swung around, blocking our way, and the driver began demanding that we let him pass. He was not supposed to drive in front of me; he was supposed to go straight. He blocked my path and told me to let him pass. I gestured to him: 'How am I supposed to let you pass, are you going to drive over my head?' I could not make way for him; there were cars behind me and I had no room to back up. He started to go back and forth and almost hit a woman, I blew my horn, and passers-by shouted at him. Then he drove up and stopped his car next to mine and said: ' Ara! (Hey!) Didn't I tell you to let me pass?' And I responded, ' Ara is for you and you father!' He said: 'Pull over, let's talk.' Because there was no room and he was stopped in the other lane I said, 'Let's move forward,'" Gagik Harutiunyan recalled.

"He went first and told us to follow him," Karen Gevorgyan continued the story. "He drove fast and turned onto the street leading to the Haghtanak Bridge . We didn't follow him; we went straight and parked near the fish store. Then he made an illegal U-turn right in the middle of the street, and drove up to where we were parked."

Gagik described what happened next. "We didn't get out of the car. He got out, came up and grabbed the door with his right hand and hit me in the face with his left hand," "He was holding the door, preventing me from getting out. Karen got out of the car, then he let the door go and I got out, too. He said that I deserved to be hit, and that he was a law enforcement officer. I said, 'Then let's go to the police station.' So we drove toward the police station, but he drove off." The license plate on the Mercedes ML was 70 SO 600. "I found out that the name of the guy behind the wheel was Ruben Karakhanyan. They say that he is the owner of the store Egoist on Saryan Street. That's all I know about him," he said.

Gagik made a statement at the police station. "It took us four hours to write the statement; they told us they were busy. Then some people came and tried to make peace with us. We told them that we were going to pursue the matter to the end." By the way, Gagik's nose had been broken and was bleeding at the police station. A criminal case was instituted by the Kentron District Police Department on October 8, 2004 , more than two weeks after the incident, although the Criminal Code requires that charges be filed within ten days. In the intervening time, the car owners tried in vain to bribe Gagik. Karen Gevorgyan and Gagik Harutiunyan were questioned; Investigator Khachik Khachatryan from the investigations division of the Kentron district police department is in charge.

But Gagik says that the investigators haven't done anything. They didn't fingerprint the car door, though he asked them to do so repeatedly. Gagik Harutiunyan also informed the police that the man who hit him had been, to all appearances, on drugs, and asked them to do a drug test. "We suspect that he was under the influence of drugs since his appearance and behavior weren't those of a sane person," Gagik said. But Ruben Karakhanyan wasn't tested.

Karakhanyan's relatives have met with Gagik several times trying to smooth things over. "The mediators who came to reconcile with us told me that the car wasn't Ruben's, that he just manages the store. They wanted to buy me off. They said, 'Let's consider what you're going to spend, what we're going to spend. Let us pay you that money and solve the problem.' I told them that this should become a precedent to show every one that there is no need to be afraid, no matter who. We call on every one: 'Don't put up with this, don't take "compensation". Paying money is not a punishment for such people; they even include such expenses in their budgets. We must show that it is possible to fight back and punish them."

"I has become a social phenomenon," filmmaker Karen Gevorkyan said. "Shaved heads, these people acting like this in the streets in their luxury cars, their license plates. This is these people's self-affirmation - through hitting, smashing. This psychology enters into people's minds. We must fight against this through legal means, through the courts. Society must fight against this as well. Irrespective of whose man the person is, whether he's close to the president or not - a social force must stand up to them. They have to realize that they are going to be sued, that they are nothing."

Obviously, "lion hearted" Ruben Karakhanyan has an official behind him, one of no small caliber, as it turns out-deputy head of the Military Police, Haik Stepanyan. Stepanyan is the real owner of the NAM Group (it imports textiles, underwear); he also owns the Light Store near the Mashtots Market, and deals in cars. He drives various cars himself, sometimes with diplomatic license plates. He is not the only member of the Military Police to be a successful businessman; far from it. But that's another story.

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