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Caucasus Report: August 11, 1998

11 August 1998, Volume 1, Number 24

Armenian Murder Investigation Continues The paucity of concrete information concerning the circumstances of the 6 August murder in his Yerevan office of Armenia's Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatrian continues to fuel speculation about the possible motives for the killing. According to Armenian law enforcement officials, Khachatrian was shot dead by his colleague and subordinate, Aram Karapetian, who then committed suicide. Karapetian had previously served as Armenia's chief transport prosecutor, but was demoted in early 1997 before Khachatrian was appointed prosecutor-general in May the same year. Karapetian was reportedly seen by other employees twice entering the chief prosecutor's office shortly before the killing. A secretary who saw Karapetian after the first visit found him extremely anxious, sitting in the reception and writing a letter. An aide to the murdered prosecutor said that Karapetian was to file a request to relieve him of his duties.

But very few believe that it was the imminent sacking that prompted Karapetian to fire the fatal shots. Those who know him well describe him as a reserved and prudent person. The dominant view is that Karapetian had more weighty reasons to take such action. He may well have been faced with unpleasant facts implicating him in shady activities. During his lengthy career in law-enforcement bodies, Karapetian reportedly made a fortune by dubious means. That would have rendered him all the more susceptible to revelations that came to light during investigations, reopened recently by Khachatrian, into a series of murders of prominent figures in the past several years.

Local observers recall that Karapetian was transport prosecutor at the time when Hambartsum Ghandilian, chief of Armenia's railway network, was shot dead in 1994. Recently, Khachatrian announced that serious progress has been made in solving Ghandilian's murder. One of Khachatrian's predecessors, Vladimir Nazarian, told the newspaper "Aravot" that both Karapetian and Ghandilian witnessed largescale embezzlement in the rail sector during the early 1990s, but declined to give further details.

A related hypothesis draws tentative links between Khachatrian's murder and the recent questioning of one of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian's closest associates, former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, following the arrest earlier this year of a group of former interior ministry officials on murder charges.

Other speculations, which appear to be even more far-fetched, question the very fact of Karapetian shooting Khachatrian and then himself. According to this conspiracy theory, a third person could have been in the prosecutor's office to stage-manage both the killing and the suicide. Karapetian's friends have expressed doubt that he killed Khachatrian. But with virtually no comment available from investigators, it is too early to say how credible these conclusions are.

Whatever the truth, most ordinary Armenians will attribute the murder of Henrik Khachatrian to his systematic crackdown on the "mafia." Several prominent politicians appear to share the concern of Union of Constitutional Rights chairman Hrant Khachatrian, who argued that the killing is evidence that "criminal elements [are] strengthening their positions in the executive and legislative branch," and rebukes the Armenian authorities for not taking tougher action against those members of the former leadership implicated in grave crimes. "Golos Armenii" on 8 August predicted that the murder investigations reopened by Khachatrian may be quietly dropped, as Khachatrian's successor will wish to avoid meeting the same fate. But President Robert Kocharian is likely to insist on clarification of those crimes and all other factors relating to Khachatrian's death. (Emil Danielyan)

Georgia's Political Crisis -- A Dissenting Voice Interviewed last week by a correspondent for RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau, Vakhtang Khmaladze, president of the League for the Defence of the Constitution and one of the co-authors both of Georgia's existing constitution and of the 1990 and 1992 election laws, cast doubt on the view that sweeping changes in that constitution could help overcome the present political crisis. Khmaladze argued that, on the contrary, it became clear soon after the debate on ways and means to overcome that crisis began not only that "changing the constitution is not a panacea" for the country's woes, but that doing so could cause more harm than good. He pointed out that the roots of the present crisis lie within the executive branch, and are connected primarily with the activities and shortcomings of specific individuals, whose dismissal or resignation the population widely anticipated.

In this context, Khmaladze made the point that whereas in a parliamentary republic it is perfectly normal for the prime minister and his entire government to resign voluntarily, after which the head of state charges the same prime minister with forming a new government, this is unusual in a presidential republic. Under Georgian law, the circumstances in which a minister may resign, as opposed to asking to be relieved of his duties, are limited. He may do so only if he disagrees with a decision by parliament, or with presidential policy, if he is asked to take a decision that violates the law, or for health reasons. Although Khmaladze did not say so outright, last week's resignations were thus, if not unconstitutional, certainly irregular.

Asked whether he thought that a change of government could contribute to overcoming the present crisis, Khmaladze said that he very much wants to hope so, but that he does not believe that this will be the case. He predicted -- accurately, as it subsequently turned out -- that the "relatively new" government would include "more than one" holdover from Lekishvili's team. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTE OF THE WEEK "The Georgian authorities have fulfilled their electoral promises and formed one million vacancies, but abroad." Chairman of Adjar Supreme Council Aslan Abashidze at his traditional weekly press conference (Caucasus Press, 3 August, 1998). The promise to create one million new jobs in Georgia figured prominently in Eduard Shevardnadze's 1995 presidential election campaign program.