Dressed for Death: Demonstrators Remember Beating Victim Vahe Avetyan

YEREVAN (A.W.)—On June 30, several hundred people participated in a candlelight vigil held at the Harsnakar restaurant in Avan, Armenia, where three military doctors were beaten on June 17. One of the doctors, Major Vahe Avetyan, died on June 29 from severe head trauma.

Photo by Anush Khachatryan

The demonstration was organized by a group calling itself the “Self-Determined Citizens of the Republic of Armenia.”

The demonstrators began the vigil on a sidewalk near the restaurant, holding lit candles and posters that read “I am Vahe Avetyan” and “You can’t get away with it.”

Some attempted to approach the restaurant and place candles in the parking lot, but were initially blocked by police. One of the organizers then convinced the police to let a stream of people slowly approach the lot.

Harsnakar is a grand-scale restaurant and function hall owned by Member of Parliament Ruben “Nemets Rubo” Hayrapetyan, a known oligarch. It is where the wealthy hold extravagant wedding parties. Hayrapetyan owns numerous business ventures, among them the Bjni mineral water company (which bottles Bjni and Noy), a hotel also called Harsnakar on Lake Sevan, and a bank. He is also the president of Armenia’s Football Federation.

Although Hayrapedyan maintains he had no connection with the beating, his personal bodyguard, Garik Markaryan, allegedly inflicted the fatal injuries on Avetyan.

The demonstration was peaceful, with people speaking to each other quietly and lighting candles, while others wept and prayed. Anahit Bakhshyan of the Heritage Party was visibly distraught when talking to Civilnet.am.

“I am really tired of this lack of accountability,” she said. “I am disgusted by this situation but…at this moment, I can’t find the words. I can’t find the way out, but I know this can’t happen. I know we have to do something, and if there’s someone who knows what to do I’ll stand by him. But right now, I feel empty.”

Armen Rustamian representing the ARF-Dashnaktsutyun also joined the demonstrators.

Rustamian (Photos by Anush Khachatryan)

“The upper echelons of the leadership must teach a lesson and certainly reiterate what is demanded by law—that an obvious murder took place in public sight,” Rustamian said. “If that is not explained, brought to light and condemned…they will have to do something so that [the issue] doesn’t become complicated.”

A few young people were able to approach the restaurant without gaining notice, and wrote words in red spray paint on the walls, such as “House of murder,” and the word “oligarchs” crossed out.

When the protesters realized that a wedding party was going on inside the restaurant, they approached the main entrance, which was guarded by law enforcement officers, including high-ranking members of the police department. When the police did not let the protesters enter the restaurant, they began to chant “Shame, shame,” chastising them for what was perceived as an act of protecting the oligarchic establishment. They also chanted the familiar slogan of the opposition—“Sergik go away”—referring to President Serge Sarkisian. The police responded by forming a human chain in front of the entrance and shoving the protesters away from the entrance.  Some of the people from the wedding party began to approach the entrance, which enraged the protesters even more.

The demonstration ended just after 10 p.m. and similar protests continued Sunday in front of the Presidential Palace and the prosecutor general’s office. A memorial service was held for Avetyan on Monday afternoon.

‘I am Vahe Avetyan’ (Photo by Anush Khachatryan)

That same evening, only a few hours after demonstrators left the scene, Vartan Samvelyan, a lieutenant colonel in the Armenian military, entered Harsnakar with the intention of blowing up the restaurant with explosives he was carrying, as reported by Tert.am.  He was arrested shortly thereafter by the police and is under custody.

Exactly what happened on June 17 between the quarrelers remains unclear. Words were exchanged at two separate times between the servicemen and staff over an apparent dress code violation, the second conflict occurring after Avetyan returned to the premises, having gone home to change out of his athletic clothing. Just why Markaryan felt obligated to severely beat Avetyan has yet to be revealed. Accounts from eyewitnesses have yet to come to light, probably due to fear of retaliation against them.

President Sarkisian was expected by many to publically convey his condolences to the Avetyan family. Ironically, on Monday the Armenian press published photos showing the president sitting side by side with Hayrapetyan at the Euro Cup soccer championship game held July 1.

Christian Garbis

Christian Garbis

Christian Garbis is a writer and experimental filmmaker born and raised in Greater Boston. He received his BA in English and Certificate in Film Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has been contributing to the Armenian Weekly since 1994 and has served as an assistant editor for the paper. He lives in Yerevan with his wife and son and maintains two blogs documenting his impressions: Notes From Hairenik and Footprints Armenia. His first novel is partly based on his experiences in Armenia.


  1. The peaceful demonstration is a good sign. More people should join in a future demonstration, again peacefully, and continue to put pressure on Hayrapetyan. His employees are to blame and he has a duty as an MP, business owner, and fellow Armenian to act in a just manner. Until he does so, Armenians ought to boycott any firms or products owned by him. He will feel it then. Pres. Sargsyan also needs to step up and insure the bodyguards who killed the military doctor are brought to justice. Hopefully, Vladimir Gasparyan was serious when he said the police would not let politics influence the outcome of their investigation.

    • Well said AR.

      Peacefully boycott all companies of Hayrapetyan, until he makes amends: throws his thuggish bodyguards “under the bus” and pays unreal sums for damages to the victims and their kin. (one online booking site has already delisted his hotel at Lake Sevan)

      And I don’t know what the Civil tort law is in RoA right now.
      But here in the US, there would be mulimillion dollar lawsuits against the employers of the bodyguards (Hayrapetyan as a private business owner), and the establishment where the beating took place

      I disagree that Pres. Sargsyan needs to get involved in the judicial process.
      The Judiciary needs to develop independently. If the Pres intervenes in a case we like, he can also intervene in a case we do not like. He should stay out.
      Let the various bodies do their work: if there is cover up, there is enough of an independent press in RoA at this time to keep it in the limelight.

      And if the bodyguards get convicted, maybe the judge can sentence them to the LOC in Artsakh: they can be compelled to sit atop the trenches; bait for Azeri snipers; when Azeris take pot shots at them, our snipers can spot them, and….

      The goons deserve no mercy for murdering a military doctor, of all people: an Armenian that murders a member of the military, who are there to protect the entire population of RoA – is worse than an external enemy.

  2. Its time for the people to boycott all Oligarks and mafia businesses in armenia
    and in the diaspora.I like to see a big demonstration in the US in front of the
    Armenian embassy and consulates.And no more telethons for Armenia until
    the Armenian government changes and their murderous mafia attitude changes. Armenia is not a free country .

  3. This story reminds to the killing of the Javakhetsi friend of President Koutcharyan in 2001 ! We are still far away from a democratic state, but there remains hope that
    one certain day when a murderer is really punished by a RESPONSIBLE judge the
    devellopment could change.
    Similar killings will go on as long as the murderers can be certain that Armenian
    jurisdiction is working according to these Caucasian procedures and is unwilling to change to European standards.

  4. This is another shameless face of corrupt government!
    One day, they should all brought in the court of justice, and face the punishment.

    Armenian socio-political status has to endure a massive shake up.
    And the shake up will only happen when all those who suffer join together and act, instead of isolate actions of defiance.

  5. From this unfair judgment , thousands Armenian family’s refugies from Armenia!
    Hpw much Armenia been changed for a good, but never will be change Favorism, and unfair life over there! In the foreign Country, withe the foreign nations we found more comfort! Somtimes, I am very sorry that I am Armenian, because Armenians does hait each other!
    I am very sorry for loss of Vahe Avetyan!

    • Marine,

      Please do not dramatize. Armenians do not hate each other. These kind of, or worse, crimes happen in every country. I do not see a reason for you to be sorry for being Armenian.

      A murder has been committed, and hopefully, criminals involved will be punished.

      Unfortunately, we lost another wonderful Armenian to oligarchs. The good thing is that our society is not indifferent. This means that the society is not going to tolerate this kind of behavior and oligarchs have to be very careful about their actions.

    • Marine, stop overreacting. Armenians in many different spheres not only support each other but have respect for one another. You have obviously been through some difficult times yourself but you shouldn’t judge an entire nation based on the actions of a few.


  7. It is very sad to see Armenians demonstrating against Armenians for any reason. However, if Armenian politicians cannot honestly criticize this heinous act and the criminals who prey upon and kill their fellow Armenians, why should we be surprised that Turkish politicians do not criticize their own criminals of the past or present? Everyone knows that the murder of an innocent person is not the mark of a civilized society. Worse, it is a sign of lawlessness and a lack of humanity, and very dangerous to all Armenians. Amot eh – shad, shad amot eh. It seems clear that these people have no shame at all, so they bring shame onto everyone, not just themselves, and this is what brings demonstrators into the streets – their collective shame.

  8. This unlucky Doctor Vahe…
    He is like Abu-Azizi of Tunis…
    He is martyr for an Armenian cause…
    We are few …How can we kill each other…
    Is not enough we have so many enemies…?
    Shame on a such government…
    Who cares to be rich only…
    Who will take his money to his grave…
    Like Abu-Al Amari said,
    “Walk slowly without hubris-ness…underneath there are flesh”
    I don’t think such people have any Armenian honest blood…
    Although Dr. Vahe died…As all of us we will die one day…
    But his name…is carved in our hearts and our cohorts…
    More than any president…
    Who comes and goes and… who will be cursed forever…for his bad attitudes…!

    • Amen Sylva; that was a very good comparison. How can you kill your own soldier who is there to defend his country and countrymen including those worthless violent hooligans?

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