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Larisa Paremuzyan

Political Persecution in Lori Marz

Melik Ayvazyan, the Village Mayor of Odzun, who goes by the nickname ‘Alabash Melo’, has seemingly gone out of his way to see to it that the residents there suffer the consequences of their political actions. The families of local residents Albert Nalbandyan (8 members) and Davit Makichyan (4 members) had their gas supply shut off merely due to the fact that they showed up at some of the rallies. The Chief of HayRusGazArd’s Tumanyan Division is Sargis Ayvazyan (nicknamed Koli Sako), the brother of the Mayor.

One of the rally activists, Seryozha Barseghyan, hasn’t responded to the verbal orders of the Tumanyan Division of Internal Affairs to show up at their offices. In the village they say he’s scared that he’ll be beaten and has thus gone into hiding. On March 10th, the police conducted a search of his barn where they ‘discovered’ 30 rounds of ammunition. On March 13th, according to the directives of the Mayor of Odzun and Aram Kocharyan, Lori’s Regional Governor, the Principal of the Odzun High School, Surik Alaverdyan, dismissed Alvard Shermazanyan from her position as the School Administrator and mathematics teacher. She had been an election proxy for Levon Ter-Petrosyan. As a sign of protest the school’s teaching staff stopped giving lessons on that day. On the following day, March 14th, at 1:30 p.m., they called for a collective meeting and demanded the presence of Mayor Ayvazyan. He failed to show-up. In the meantime, Principal Surik Alaverdyan prevented the meeting from taking place. Four of the teachers went to the Mayor’s office and demanded that the illegal persecution of the School Administrator be stopped. Alvard recounts that,  “Melik promised that he wouldn’t remove me but the next day Principal Surik Alaverdyan called me into his office and said - ‘Write an application requesting that you leave and I’ll hire you back in two months’. I responded that, ‘I can’t write such a request. You dismiss me and put the directive in my hand. Then we’ll see’.” She adds that all the school’s staff and the village are on her side.

Late in the night of March 8th, a flourmill belonging to Loris Aghvanyan (a Ter-Petrosyan proxy with no party affiliation) and his brother Yezek Aghvanyan (a member of the People’s Party of Armenia) was burnt to the ground in Odzun. The Aghvanyan brothers estimate the damages to be about 1 million drams. The two brothers stated that, “We’re convinced that this fire was a way for the authorities to get back at us for being Ter-Petrosyan proxies and for attending a few rallies in Yerevan.”

The flour mill which has been operating for 15 years and which process 500 kilos of flour per hour, not only supplied the 5,000 residents of Odzun but the residents of 7 surrounding villages as well as the residents of the villages of Koghes, Letchan and Agarak in Stepanavan. Yezek Aghvanyan said that, “we built the mill with our own hands, no professionals were called in. During the difficult years of the Levon Ter-Petrosyan presidency, the ‘cold and dark years’ as they’re called, they provided us light from the train line so that the mill could cater to the villagers.” The burnt mill is a symbolic image of this country’s state economic policy towards dissenting business managers.  The mill is encircled on all sides by properties owned by Odzun’s Mayor Melik Ayvazyan and his brothers. The Mayor’s huge castle-like home, surrounded by high walls, lies some 40-50 meters opposite from the entrance of the mill. On the right side, just some 5 meters away, is the Mayor’s “Grura” milk plant. Also in the general vicinity is the Mayor’s flourmill, his pig and cow farms, and his vast stretches of tillable land. To the left of the Aghvanyan mill, Sargis, the Mayor’s brother, is building a gas station. Every day one can see the equipment and workers under his jurisdiction toiling away to finish it.

The Mayor’s various buildings and other properties next to the burnt-out flourmill remain unaffected and seemingly invulnerable. The Aghvanyan mill caught fire from the direction of the fields. Since the flames spread both from the wall adjacent to the Mayor’s businesses and from a window not 15 meters away, it can be deduced that the fire was set on purpose. Garik Hakhinyan, the Lori regional specialist regarding emergency situations stated that, “There must be an investigation and we’ll conduct our examinations. On the one hand there are power cables there, but fires were set as well. We can say what happened with more certainty after the investigation.”

The villagers told us that the Mayor employs guards to protect his property and also keeps a few huge dogs as well that have been known to attack people. After the fire the dogs vanished. Artak Nalbandyan, a guard on duty the night of the fire, added that, “ Yeah, I was on guard there. I came through the barnyard but I didn’t hear a thing. He went on to say that, “The dogs had been let loose. They bark all night long. Do you expect me to get up every time they bark?”

A group of villagers by the mill chimed in that, “It can’t be ruled out that the dogs recognized those who set the fire. Otherwise the dogs would have eaten them alive.” 

The guard Artak said that, “Me and my father work on Melik’s property. We herd the cattle and also do guard duties. By the time I came through the barnyard the fir had been put out.”

A male resident of Odzun standing by the mill, who didn’t wish to give his name, said that, “Listen, I have kids. It’s better to leave well enough alone. They can plant something in my pockets and haul me away.”

The Aghvanyan brothers weren’t the ones who contacted the police about the fire; it was the firefighters who filed the report. The suffering they’ve experienced isn’t new. Months ago the apartment of a political party colleague of theirs met a similar fate and to date the police haven’t gotten to the bottom of it. The police have explained this lack of progress by stating that the causes of most fires of this type, as a rule, are never discovered or are quite difficult to reveal. The Aghvanyan brothers are quite familiar with the way things work in this country...