Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 166

Khachig Poghossian, head of the Oversight Committee attached to the Armenian prime minister’s office, was assassinated on September 11 by a grenade blast at the entrance to his Yerevan apartment. The technique used is novel even for the seasoned local killers: The grenade had been attached to the front door knob and went off when Poghossian turned the knob.

Poghossian served, in 1998-2000, as customs chief of the Ararat district and as chief of the government’s Oversight Committee. This particular combination and time frame seem to link him with the grouping led by the late strongman Vazgen Sarkisian and his brother and successor as prime minister, Aram Sarkisian. When President Robert Kocharian won the power struggle against the Sarkisians’ clan in May 2000, he coopted Poghossian as minister of state revenues, only to release him in November 2000. The official reason for the dismissal was inadequate tax collection, but the real one may have been Poghossian’s publication of a selective list of tax evaders, which made him politically popular while angering the influential evaders and their protectors. Prime Minister Andranik Margarian then appointed Poghossian–a member of Margarian’s Republican Party–to what has turned out to be Poghossian’s last official post. Simultaneously, Poghossian also headed an oil products import firm.

Poghossian’s is the latest in a long series of murders of government officials in Yerevan. Those assassinated in recent years include: State Security Committee chief Major-General Marius Yuzbashian, Railroads Director-General Hambartsum Kandilian, Chamber of Industry and Trade President Ashot Sarkisian, Yerevan Mayor Hambartsum Galstian, Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatrian, Deputy Defense Minister Colonel Vahram Khorkhoruni, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Major-General Artsrun Markarian, and, in the October 1999 carnage, Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, Parliament Chairman Karen Demirchian and six other officials. In March 2000, Karabakh’s president Arkady Gukasian was severely wounded in an assassination attempt by his rivals.

All but the Gukasian case remain unresolved. Almost all cases, however, were traceable to rivalries within the state security apparatus, political establishment and shadow economy. On August 31, 2001, official investigators came up with a solution to the 1998 murder of Prosecutor General Khachatrian. They now claim to have concluded that the prime suspect, fellow prosecutor Aram Karapetian, shot himself after shooting his superior. Suspicions are rife in Yerevan, however, that the case was a double murder.

Last week, meanwhile, a core group of the late Vazgen Sarkisian’s supporters, led by Aram Sarkisian, launched the political party Hanrapetutiun [Republic] in opposition to President Kocharian. As its trump card, Hanrapetutiun cites the impasse in the investigation of the October 1999 carnage, and accuses Kocharian of trying to protect the assassins (Noyan-Tapan, August 31, September 8, 11; AP, September 11).