YPC Weekly Newsletter

2004


CAR OF “HAIKAKAN ZHAMANAK” DAILY ON FIRE

On November 22 at about 20.40 the car “VAZ-2121 Niva”, owned by “Haikakan Zhamanak”
daily and parked by the entrance to the editorial office, ignited and soon got
completely burned. According to the employees of “Haikakan Zhamanak”, they first
heard a muffled clap; a few more exploding sounds came as the car was burning.
The fire force and the police, as the editorial staff says, arrived on site
in 15-20 minutes after the fire started.

The Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak” Nikol Pashinian qualified the incident
to be a terrorist attack, directed against him personally, because it was he
who was driving this car, and that was the time he usually was heading home.
In the opinion of Nikol Pashinian, the incident might have been organized by
a well-known entrepreneur, the head of “MultiGroup” concern, RA National Assembly
deputy Gagik Tsarukian. The Chief Editor supposed that the reason for that may
be the articles in “Haikakan Zhamanak”, criticizing the bad performance of Armenian
sportsmen at Summer Olympic Games in Athens (on the day of the incident Gagik
Tsarukian was elected to be the Chairman of the National Olympic Committee of
Armenia). After the publication of theses articles, as Nikol Pashinian maintains,
Gagik Tsarukian, within his surroundings, promised to teach the Chief Editor
of “Haikakan Zhamanak” a lesson – as soon as the newspaper makes another criticism
of senior officials or well-known figures.

In “Haikakan Zhamanak” of November 23 Nikol Pashinian noted that such a convenient
pretext could have been the criticism of the Head of the RA Police Haik Harutiunian
in one of the latest issues of the daily, with regard to the actions of the
law enforcement bodies during the opposition rally on the night of April 12-13,
2004. As it has been reported, on that night four journalists were injured,
including two correspondents of “Haikakan Zhamanak”. Besides, according to the
Chief Editor, the newspaper, jointly with the Chairman of “Investigative Journalists”
organization Edik Baghdasarian, was preparing a series of revelatory articles
on the economic activities of Gagik Tsarukian, one of which was published on
November 17. This very article could have been “the straw that had broken Tsarukian’s
back”, because he knew that Edik Baghdasarian “continued to investigate the
subject and other publications in “Haikakan Zhamanak” are to follow”. (The second
article by Edik Baghdasarian, titled “All Doors are Open before Tsarukian”,
was published by “Haikakan Zhamanak” on November 24 and continues the discussion
of the illegitimate construction of houses and other facilities in the resort
zone of Tsaghkadzor by the businessman.)

Gagik Tsarukian, in his interview to a Armenian-language newspaper of Los-Angeles,
“Zhamanak”, extracts from which were published in the same “Haikakan Zhamanak
“ issue of November 23, called the supposition about his involvement in the
incident “not serious”. Gagik Tsarukian noted that he had never had any problems
with “Haikakan Zhamanak”, but for some small controversies five years ago that
were in past. “Should I have any objections to the pieces in their newspaper,
I would have sent my attorney there”, Tsarukian stressed.

The Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak”, on his behalf, called on the law enforcement
bodies to deny or confirm by investigation the version of the involvement of
Gagik Tsarukian in “the organization of a terrorist attack”.

In the piece on the incident “Hayastani Hanrapetutiun” daily of November 23,
quoting the Information Department of the RA Police, published the preliminary
conclusion of the experts, according to which the ignition of the car happened
as a result of malfunctioning of the battery wires. At the same time “HH” condemned
“any action, whoever it is performed by, that is directed at the destabilization
of the situation in the country and affects the psychological situation of the
society, particularly, if the incident is somehow related with a medium”. “Hayots
Ashkhar” daily qualified the occurrence “as a cynical attack on media”.

The incident was condemned also by a number of NGOs and the RA Ombudsman.

On November 23 Yerevan Press Club and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression
issued a statement, saying:

“In the evening of November 22, 2004, next to the building where the editorial
office of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily is located, the car of the Chief Editor
of the newspaper Nikol Pashinian went suddenly on fire. As the staff of the
daily tells, they heard an explosion and then saw the car ablaze.

On the same day the Information Department of the RA Police reported that “according
to the preliminary conclusion of the experts, the reason for the fire was the
malfunction of the wires in the car battery”. The unexpectedly speedy response
of the RA Police and this conclusion allow to suppose that the investigation
will be conducted in this very direction and that other versions, also the one
proposed by Nikol Pashinian himself, will not get due attention.

The journalistic community and the public of the country in general have grounds
to be skeptical on the report issued by the Police not only because the cases
of “spontaneous ignition” of cars are quite a rare occurrence, but also because
the vast majority of journalists’ abuse cases remain undisclosed. In particular,
the Yerevan Press Club Newsletter recently has published a piece, in which the
cameraman of the Russian First Channel Levon Grigorian told about the circumstances
and the reasons for being beaten on the night of April 12-13 this year. The
law enforcement bodies have as yet done nothing to find and punish those guilty.
Another example – those who were beating the correspondent of “Haikakan Zhamanak”
daily Haik Gevorgian on the same night not only remain undisclosed, but also
the Head of the RA Police, in essence, justified this act of a violence, announcing:
“He should have behaved himself.”

One conclusion can be drawn: the atmosphere of impunity that has intensified
during the past months generates new crimes. And until the authorities of the
country prove that they are able to prevent violence against citizens, in general,
and journalists, as individuals on public duty, in particular, we cannot be
confident that this and a number of other facts will be disclosed.

Yerevan Press Club and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression demand
that a serious and objective investigation be conducted and call to take resolute
steps to stop the wave of terror that is gradually becoming a general evil.”

The statement of Yerevan Press Club and the Committee to Protect Freedom of
Expression was joined by Internews Armenia public organization.