Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Alexander Arzoumanian Arrested

May 8, 2007

Shortly before midnight on May 7, 2007, former Foreign Minister of Armenia Alexander Arzoumanian was taken into custody by the National Security Service (NSS) on charges of money laundering as he entered his apartment building in central Yerevan. The arrest, which took place days before Armenia's parliamentary election scheduled for May 12, is perceived by many to be part of the Armenian government's continuing efforts to silence political opposition and intimidate voters. Arzoumanian, who is not running for office, is a founder of the Civil Disobedience Movement and outspoken critic of the government.

The arrest followed searches of his office and apartment on Saturday, May 5. When the NSS officers, led by Mikail Hambardzumyan, arrived at his apartment on Saturday, Arzoumanian's ten-year-old son was home alone. Following the order of the officers gathered on the landing, he closed the family dog in another room and opened the door. The officers telephoned Arzoumanian's wife, US citizen Melissa Brown, and waited outside until she arrived, forbidding the boy to close the door. When Brown arrived some fifteen minutes later, they escorted her through the open door and entered the house, presenting badges and a warrant to search for documents, weapons, money, and “valuable objects”. When she asked them to wait outside until her husband arrived, they refused.

Arzoumanian, who office was being searched at the time, arrived some two hours later. The NSS searched the house, leaving at about 5:30 with two computers, several documents, and $55,400 in cash. Arzoumanian was taken in for questioning as a witness and released.

For the next several days he continued to speak openly, characterizing the search as part of the government's ongoing campaign to stir up fear and stifle dissent. He was arrested late Monday, after holding a roundtable discussion and various meetings with friends and associates. He is currently being held in the NSS jail for an unspecified period of time. Despite assurances from lawyer Hovik Arsenian that there are insufficient grounds for a criminal case against her husband, Brown is concerned that he will be held beyond the prescribed 72 hours, given the political nature of his arrest. She expressed her concerns prior to Arzoumanian's arrest to David McFarland at the United States Consulate, and he promised to be in touch with the political division of the US Embassy on her behalf. They have not yet contacted her.

Alexander Arzoumanian became involved in the Armenian independence movement in the late 1980s, running the information center of the Armenian National Movement until the collapse of the USSR in 1991. He then served as Armenia's first ambassador to the United States (1992-1993) and to the United Nations (1992-1996). He served as minister of foreign affairs from 1996 until his resignation in 1998. Since then, he has been active in politics, most recently as co-founder of the Civil Disobedince Movement. He was also a member of the Turkish-Armenian Reconcilition Commission, which in 2002 commissioned a legal analysis regarding the applicability of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to the Armenian Genocide from the International Center for Transitional Justice.

Armen Karapetyan

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