Democracy Watch: Assault on opposition activist, attack on the media, controversial land deals and procurements by ruling party members

Democracy Watch: Assault on opposition activist, attack on the media, controversial land deals and procurements by ruling party members





Welcome to DEMOCRACY WATCH, brought to you by CivilNet and the Regional Center for Democracy and Security. Weekly recaps will highlight and examine the pivotal challenges facing Armenia's democratic institutions. 


Political Repression

On April 15, opposition activist Samvel Vardanyan confronted ruling party deputy Hakob Aslanyan on a bus and began insulting him. After this incident, police officers arrived at Vardanyan's home and detained him. On the trip to the police station, the officers stopped the car and left, claiming they needed to relieve themselves.

Vardanyan reports that masked individuals then approached the car and began assaulting him. They spat on him and threatened him with sexual violence. An opposition deputy who later visited Vardanyan in detention noted a swollen hand.

Armenia’s Investigative Committee charged Vardanyan with hooliganism and incitement of hatred through digital technology. After posting a seven million dram ($18,000) bail, he was placed under house arrest. At the time of this writing, his attackers remain unidentified, and no criminal case has been opened against them.

The fact that the two police officers left the detainee unattended in the police car ahead of the assault raises suspicions of government orchestration behind the attack. Notably, the head of police shares a close friendship with Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

The newspaper Haykakan Zhamanak, owned by Pashinyan’s family, published an interview with a pro-government analyst prior to the incident involving Vardanyan. The analyst stated, “If police officers do not respond appropriately, then we should engage them on their own terms, employing methods they understand.”  



According to Hetq, a nearly four-hectare complex with 12 buildings in Tsaghkadzor is linked to two deputies from the ruling party, Khachatur Sukiasyan and Vagharshak Hakobyan. Sukiyasyan's nephew and Hakobyan's father each own 50% of the company. Hetq reports that the land was purchased for 413 million drams –– nearly four times less than its market value. The market rate for one square meter is $97, but it was sold for $27. The total market value was approximately $3,773,000, but it was sold for $1,066,000. The mayor of Tsaghkadzor is also a member of the ruling party.


During the 2018 revolution, Pashinyan emphasized the need to separate business and politics, framing his team’s objective as "de-oligarchization." However, during the 2021 elections, several business figures were included in their party list and became deputies, raising questions about consistency in their stance.


According to an investigation by CivilNet, the Ararat municipality purchased a Volkswagen ID.6 CROZZ Electric vehicle for $45,000 for the mayor. The car was sourced from a company owned by the son of a ruling Civil Contract deputy, Hovik Aghazaryan. Interestingly, the municipality specified the exact model of the car in the open procurement call. This is noteworthy as the law on procurements discourages any references to trademarks, company names, models, country of origin, or producers when possible. This law aims to prevent officials from buying personal items - a clause intended to combat corruption.


Attacks On the Media

Khachatur Sukiasyan, a member of parliament from the ruling Civil Contract Party and a prominent businessman, found himself embroiled in yet another scandal last week. Following an investigation into his nephew’s land purchase in Tsakhkadzor, Sukiasyan verbally attacked Hripsime Jebejyan, a journalist at Aravot Daily, when she questioned him about alleged tax evasion. His response included insults directed at Jebejyan and accusations against Aravot of receiving funds from the “KGB.” In response, several media organizations condemned Sukiasyan's behavior and called for him to apologize to Jebejyan and Aravot.

This incident underscores a troubling trend in Armenia and globally, where politicians target journalists and question their integrity. We echo the sentiment emphasizing the importance of politicians maintaining tolerance toward the press, even when faced with challenging or provocative questions.