Monday, 24 September

Authorities Give the Shaved-heads Carte Blanche

On February 4, 2005 at 8:30 p.m. there was an exchange of gunfire in the TETS-i Krug neighborhood on the outskirts of Yerevan . The shootout lasted fifteen minutes; one man, Mher Ter-Harutiunyan, was killed, and dozens were injured.

The perpetrators faced justice in a trial that concluded on April 29th.

The incident began with a disagreement over Microbus Route 69. The two parties that had laid claim to the route called in reinforcements in the form of gangsters and oligarchs' bodyguards. About 200 people took part in the armed clash. Bullets from 7.62mm and 5.45mm caliber machine guns were found at the scene.

Look at these faces carefully. Tomorrow, in a week, or in a couple of months they are going to commit new crimes. They are going to commit these crimes because they have received carte blanche from the authorities. They've had it since September 25, 2001 when President Kocharyan's bodyguards beat Poghos Poghosyan to death in the Aragast Cafe and were never punished for it.

Hamo from Bangladesh
Hro from Artashat
Vrezh Osipyan

These three "good guys", as they refer to themselves, attacked reporters on April 5, 2004 (See: Violence against journalists).

Two of them were questioned at the time and given fines of 100 thousand drams ($200) each.

The first man in the photograph is Hamo from Bangladesh, or Armen Avetisyan. The next is Hro from Artashat, or Hrair Harutiunyan, a former bodyguard and current business associate Member of Parliament Gagik Tsarukyan. Hro is a small businessman, with stores and various industrial units; the way is paved for him in his business career. Hro was also the leader of one of the sides in the shootout in TETS-i Krug. The other side was led by Lyovik, a reputed criminal from Yerevan 's Charbakh district.

The third man in the photo is Vrezh Osipyan. He also happened to be near Cinema Nairi during the events of April 5 th , but the Prosecutor's Office did not question him at all. Politician Ashot Manucharyan recognized Vrezh Osipyan as one of attackers (See: Ashot Manucharyan recognizes one of his attackers). The police questioned Osipyan once when this piece of information came to light, and that was all.

All three men were participants in the TETS-i Krug shootout. The courts let them off easily this time, too.

The trial following the violence against journalists on April 5 th is a classic example of the ineptitude of those entrusted with defending the law: the way the judge investigated the case and reached a verdict was amazing. There was no "questioning" in the case at all, and knowing the names of the people involved in the TETS-i Krug case, it's easy to predict that this one will turn out the same way, i.e. no one will be punished. It is reasonable to surmise that if the shaved-headed thugs responsible violence of last April had been punished, then TETS-i Krug would not have happened in February of this year. It is even more certain that the incident will prove to be the first in a series, because defenders of the law are hostages to these thugs.

"TETS-i Krug" has become famous for its showdowns. It is at the intersection of Artsakh and Arin-Berd Streets, where many of Yerevan 's largest factories are located. In Soviet times the, the area was always busy; today there is not much traffic. Why did the February 4 th showdown happen here?

Last year when we were trying to find out about the men responsible for the attack on the journalists, the trail led to TETS-i Krug. We knew that the men frequently got together here in a local factory, the headquarters of the shaved-heads. One of our journalists managed to get inside at one of their gatherings, and saw Hamo from Bangladesh , Hro from Artashat, and Vrezh Osipyan there.

Showdowns are common in the neighborhood and law enforcement knows it. Sometimes people are brought here "for purposes of instruction", after which different issues are quickly resolved-debts are paid, and dues are collected. The criminal world in Armenia has fused with the legal system, and law enforcement officials often take part in the showdowns. February 4 th was no exception. Investigators know the names of those who took part, but they are not mentioned in the case. It has even been discovered which armed man called which general, member of parliament, and oligarch from the scene of the incident, but the justice system closes its eyes to the facts, because it has been ordered to do so.

Members of the governing coalition have stated again and again that the rule of law must be established in the country, and that no one should be above the law. They haven't, however, gone beyond words.

One point should be addend to the draft constitution that's being discussed these days: "The shaved-headed bodyguards of officials and oligarchs are national treasures and as such are under the protection of the State." Otherwise, we won't have a document that truly reflects the Republic of Armenia .

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