YEREVAN (A.W.)—On June 30, several hundred people participated in a candlelight vigil held at the Harsnakar restaurant in Avan, Armenia, where three military doctors were beaten on June 17. One of the doctors, Major Vahe Avetyan, died on June 29 from severe head trauma.
The demonstration was organized by a group calling itself the “Self-Determined Citizens of the Republic of Armenia.”
The demonstrators began the vigil on a sidewalk near the restaurant, holding lit candles and posters that read “I am Vahe Avetyan” and “You can’t get away with it.”
Some attempted to approach the restaurant and place candles in the parking lot, but were initially blocked by police. One of the organizers then convinced the police to let a stream of people slowly approach the lot.
Harsnakar is a grand-scale restaurant and function hall owned by Member of Parliament Ruben “Nemets Rubo” Hayrapetyan, a known oligarch. It is where the wealthy hold extravagant wedding parties. Hayrapetyan owns numerous business ventures, among them the Bjni mineral water company (which bottles Bjni and Noy), a hotel also called Harsnakar on Lake Sevan, and a bank. He is also the president of Armenia’s Football Federation.
Although Hayrapedyan maintains he had no connection with the beating, his personal bodyguard, Garik Markaryan, allegedly inflicted the fatal injuries on Avetyan.
The demonstration was peaceful, with people speaking to each other quietly and lighting candles, while others wept and prayed. Anahit Bakhshyan of the Heritage Party was visibly distraught when talking to Civilnet.am.
“I am really tired of this lack of accountability,” she said. “I am disgusted by this situation but…at this moment, I can’t find the words. I can’t find the way out, but I know this can’t happen. I know we have to do something, and if there’s someone who knows what to do I’ll stand by him. But right now, I feel empty.”
Armen Rustamian representing the ARF-Dashnaktsutyun also joined the demonstrators.
“The upper echelons of the leadership must teach a lesson and certainly reiterate what is demanded by law—that an obvious murder took place in public sight,” Rustamian said. “If that is not explained, brought to light and condemned…they will have to do something so that [the issue] doesn’t become complicated.”
A few young people were able to approach the restaurant without gaining notice, and wrote words in red spray paint on the walls, such as “House of murder,” and the word “oligarchs” crossed out.
When the protesters realized that a wedding party was going on inside the restaurant, they approached the main entrance, which was guarded by law enforcement officers, including high-ranking members of the police department. When the police did not let the protesters enter the restaurant, they began to chant “Shame, shame,” chastising them for what was perceived as an act of protecting the oligarchic establishment. They also chanted the familiar slogan of the opposition—“Sergik go away”—referring to President Serge Sarkisian. The police responded by forming a human chain in front of the entrance and shoving the protesters away from the entrance. Some of the people from the wedding party began to approach the entrance, which enraged the protesters even more.
The demonstration ended just after 10 p.m. and similar protests continued Sunday in front of the Presidential Palace and the prosecutor general’s office. A memorial service was held for Avetyan on Monday afternoon.
That same evening, only a few hours after demonstrators left the scene, Vartan Samvelyan, a lieutenant colonel in the Armenian military, entered Harsnakar with the intention of blowing up the restaurant with explosives he was carrying, as reported by Tert.am. He was arrested shortly thereafter by the police and is under custody.
Exactly what happened on June 17 between the quarrelers remains unclear. Words were exchanged at two separate times between the servicemen and staff over an apparent dress code violation, the second conflict occurring after Avetyan returned to the premises, having gone home to change out of his athletic clothing. Just why Markaryan felt obligated to severely beat Avetyan has yet to be revealed. Accounts from eyewitnesses have yet to come to light, probably due to fear of retaliation against them.
President Sarkisian was expected by many to publically convey his condolences to the Avetyan family. Ironically, on Monday the Armenian press published photos showing the president sitting side by side with Hayrapetyan at the Euro Cup soccer championship game held July 1.