Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The WikiLeaks files - Armenia: High profile crime and Ukrainian ambassador's allegation

Most of the criminal incidents of October 2008 reflected in the US embassy cable below have been widely reported and nothing new. The most surprising and unknown to me was the allegation by the Ukrainian ambassador that his apartment in Yerevan was broken into for “politically-motivated” reasons related to his staging of Ukraine famine remembrance event the same day that Russian president Medvedev arrived for his first state visit in Armenia. However, even the US ambassador Yovanovitch specifically mentions about US embassy’s “doubt” re Ukrainian ambassador’s “assumption”.

Below are selected extracts. US embassy cables in full.

A recent string of unconnected violent attacks around Armenia has prompted the opposition to decry the emergence of a "criminal state." Over the October 24-26 weekend, one person was killed in Yerevan, four were killed in the northern city of Spitak, and the recently re-elected mayor of the northern town of Stepanavan was almost knifed to death by his opponent's supporters. About a dozen other people were injured in these attacks, some critically. The motives of each attack remain unclear, with various media speculating on the causes while police launch investigations. In separate, recent attacks in Yerevan, a foreign businessman and the Ukrainian Ambassador were targeted by unknown assailants, apparently as a result of their business and diplomatic engagements.

On October 26 in broad daylight in one of Yerevan's central neighborhoods, two young men shot and killed one man, while wounding his companion. After the voluntary surrender of one of the perpetrators, Armenia's Prosecutor General described the attack as a revenge murder for the November 2007 killing of the perpetrator's uncle, who was the chairman of the Armenian Association of Hunters and a senior member of the pro-government Prosperous Armenia party. The perpetrator of that crime was never prosecuted, but media reports alleged that law enforcement authorities suspected the victim of the October 26 attack could have been its perpetrator.

Also over the same weekend, violence broke out in two separate Yerevan discotheques, where a shootout in one of them reportedly left one person wounded. In another night spot, a mass brawl broke out, allegedly prompted by a nephew to President Sargsian. Press reports allege that Sargsian's nephew and companions initiated the brawl that reportedly resulted in serious injuries and the loss of an eye by one of the persons involved in the melee.

Ukraine's Ambassador to Armenia recently shared with the Ambassador that his apartment was broken into on Sunday, October 19. He believed the crime was related to his defying the GOAM's heavy-handed attempts to persuade him to cancel the Holodomyr remembrance event (the 1932 famine that Ukrainians believe was genocide) which he held on Monday, October 20 -- the same day that Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev arrived for his first state visit to Armenia. On the preceding Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had called in the Ukrainian Ambassador where he was told in no uncertain terms that the event had to be cancelled. He refused. On October 19, while he was out, his apartment was broken into, and his personal possessions smashed, and very little was stolen. It took the police over an hour and a half to respond. He told the Ambassador that he believed the crime was an effort to intimidate him before the remembrance event. No GOAM official attended the event and Armenia's Public Television (Channel H1) described the memorial event in its evening coverage as "terrible" and "only fit for a circus."

Armenia and the city of Yerevan have traditionally been quite safe cities for average citizens and for visiting foreigners. Lawlessness is nothing new in Armenia, particularly in the political, financial and criminal arenas. In recent times, officials from the tax and customs services have been assassinated for unclear reasons. There have also been too-frequent incidents of powerful persons -- oligarchs, generals, and their children, relatives, or bodyguards -- getting involved in sometimes violent confrontations with those who may cross their paths, whether on the highway or in a night club setting, typically with impunity. Such people have been shown most often to be above the law, in their confrontations with average passersby.

The various incidents grouped together in this cable have in common their recent timing and the fact they were incidents of violence, but in other respects differ. Purposefully targeted attacks of a foreign businessman or a possibly-targeted home invasion of a foreign diplomat (if that is truly what these events were) seem an entirely new factor in Armenia. The Hans Boon [Unzipped: the Dutch director of HayPost] attacks seem particularly suspicious. Given that foreigners are very rarely assaulted in Armenia, for the same man to be attacked twice in four months suggests either strikingly bad security judgment on his part or deliberate targeting. We have more doubt about the Ukrainian Ambassador,s assumption that the burglary of his home was politically-motivated. Economically-motivated burglaries are not too uncommon for expatriates, homes that may be less well-protected than are U.S. Embassy housing, while a government-sponsored raid on an ambassador,s home is far outside the bounds of what we have seen in Armenia before. We plan to look further into these issues in the upcoming weeks, and hope to refine our understanding of whether there is a new pattern of increased lawlessness and politically-motivated violence, or whether this was simply a particularly striking confluence of unrelated events.


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