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Intersections: A doctor's death incites worldwide protest

July 09, 2012|By Liana Aghajanian

Last month, a handful of military doctors walked into the extravagant Harsnakar restaurant located in the outskirts of the Armenian capital of Yerevan and never managed to walk out.

A violent fight over dress codes, allegedly with the restaurant's security guards, put all of them into the hospital with severe injuries. On June 29, Maj. Vahe Avetyan died after the beating, and an uproar across the country broke out.

But civil society wasn't just outraged at the unnecessary death of a service man, the tragedy gave way for an awakening that sought to call the end to oligarchy, which runs rampant in the country.

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The security guards, along with the restaurant, belonged to Ruben Hayrapetyan, member of Parliament and president of the Football Federation of Armenia. Hayrapetyan, who also owns several major businesses in Armenia, is notoriously known as being part of a small group of men who control wealth and power in the country.

Hayrapetyan has a sordid reputation and has been known to publicly threaten to beat and “punish” those who speak out against him, demonstrating disregard for the rule of law, according to local media reports and a petition on Change.org, which calls for his resignation as head of the Football Federation.

In the last few days, Hayrapetyan has resigned from Parliament instead, writing that he felt “morally obliged to relinquish my parliamentary mandate” and asking for forgiveness in his resignation letter.

For activists, however, this just isn't enough. They've organized online petitions and called on the rejection of any visa applications by Hayrapetyan by foreign embassies in Armenia in order to prevent him from fleeing the country. They’ve staged public demonstrations — using the slogan “I am Vahe Avetyan” — to drive the message home while juxtaposing a smiling portrait of the doctor next to a photo of him bandaged and bloodied in the hospital.

Avetyan's case is chipping away at the overarching complacency in the country, reawakening the desire to not only bring the rule of law to Armenia, but to punish those who have avoided it for so long.

This civic action, as the News-Press reported last week, has even spread thousands of miles to the Armenian Diaspora stronghold of Glendale, where demonstrators assembled in front of the Armenian general consulate demanding justice for the death.

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