On August 24 in Tsaghkadzor (Kotayk region) another attack on journalists was made. The correspondent of “Photolure” photo news agency Mkhitar Khachatrian and the correspondent of “Aravot” daily Anna Israelian arrived in Tsaghkadzor to prepare a piece on the forest cuttings next to the sports complex to build summerhouses for senior officials. When Mkhitar Khachatrian, having finished the shooting of the sites, returned to the Writers’ House, he was awaited by a group of four unknown individuals, supposedly, the guards of the elite summer houses. One of them, with his hair cropped, started a verbal scuffle with the photojournalist, accusing him of trespassing and demanding that he give up the memory chip of the digital camera. Not confining himself to swearing, the “skinhead” tried to snatch the journalist’s camera in the view of the guest, staff and visitors of the Writers’ House. The skirmish that ensued moved to the office of the director of the Writers’ House and eventually, the “skinhead” managed to take away the camera and remove the memory chip. After this the strangers left the site of the incident. Mkhitar Khachatrian was injured on his neck, throat, arms and back. Nevertheless, the photojournalist did not intent to address the law enforcement bodies, since, as he says, he does not believe that those guilty will be punished.
On the same day, August 24, the Journalists Union of Armenia and Yerevan Press Club adopted a statement condemning the repetition of violence against journalists and called again to find and punish those guilty.
"To guarantee the safety of a journalist on professional duty, during his/her work – this slogan has repeatedly been recorded in the statements of journalistic associations whenever violence against journalists occurred.
The lack of punishment inevitably generates new crimes and today we reaffirm our indignation at the incident that occurred on August 24, 2004 in Tsaghkadzor. The correspondent of “Photolure" agency, a member of the Journalists Union of Armenia Mkhitar Khachatrian, on a professional mission related to environmental problems, forest preservation in Tsaghkadzor, was violently attacked by a group of strangers, one of them with his hair shaved off. With curses and threats the assaulters snatched off the memory chip of the journalist’s photo camera and injured him.
We reinstate that the violence against journalists and the obstruction of their work is a consequence of the lack of punishment to those who were to blame for the previous incidents.
Strongly condemning this other act of violence against a journalist on duty, we demand the law enforcement bodies to intervene by taking specific steps to disclose and punish those guilty", the statement of the two professional associations said.
The statement of YPC and the Journalists Union of Armenia was also joined by the participants of seminar “Judicial Protection of Human Rights in Armenia and the Media Involvement in the Process”, held in Tsaghkadzor on August 26-28 (see below), as well as a number of journalistic organizations and media.
Condemnation of the incident in Tsaghkadzor was also voiced by the Writers Union of Armenia, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Press Institute in Vienna.
On August 26 the RA General Prosecutor’s Office issues a press release, notifying that criminal proceedings were instituted on the facts of public disorder and obstruction of the legitimate professional activities of the photojournalist Mkhitar Khachatrian and journalist Anna Israelian. The proceedings were instituted by the Department for Protecting the State Interest of the RA General Prosecutor’s Office by Part 1 of Article 164 (“Obstruction of Legitimate Professional Activities of a Journalist” and part 1 of Article 258 (“Public Disorder”) of the RA Criminal Code. Besides, the attacker has been identified. By the data of the Prosecutor’s Office this was a resident of Yerevan Gagik Stepanian, born in 1961, brought to the Prosecutor’s Office for interrogation. Later, the two-time ex-convict Gagik Stepanian was imprisoned as a preventive punishment.
The journalistic community responded to this, yet another violent act with a number of actions. The next day, on August 25 “Aravot” daily published a report of the incident that was accompanied by empty frames with titles instead of the intended photographs of the cut forest. On August 28 representatives of several dozens of Armenian media, public, also journalistic organizations, went to Tsaghkadzor and made the same route that Mkhitar Khachatrian while shooting. On August 31 articles on the trip and the forest cuttings in Tsaghkadzor with photographs were published by many leading Armenian newspapers.