top aide to President Robert Kocharyan was appointed
on Wednesday as the new head of Armenia's state
television and radio, replacing journalist Tigran
Naghdalyan who was murdered under uncertain circumstances
two weeks ago.
The official, Aleksan Harutyunyan, was unanimously
elected by the five-member governing board of
the state-run Armenian Public Television and Radio
(APTR). The decision was apparently predetermined
by Kocharyan who appointed Harutyunyan, 37, and
another member of his staff to the board the previous
"I guess there could not have been another
choice of the new chairman," one of the board
members, Henrik Hovanissyan, told RFE/RL. He argued
that Harutyunyan was a close friend of Naghdalyan
and is quite familiar with television.
Harutyunyan, for his part, declined a comment.
The new state TV chief has long held senior posts
in the presidential administration, heading it
from 1998-99. Harutyunyan advised the president
on foreign policy and local government issues
before the latest appointment. He also has reportedly
overseen the work of state television in recent
Despite undergoing a major reorganization in
2001, Armenia's biggest and most accessible television
channel has remained under a tight presidential
control. APTR strongly supports Kocharyan's plans
to win a second term in office in next month's
presidential elections and is highly critical
of his political opponents.
All five members of the APTR board are named
by the president. One of them, Ashot Manukian,
resigned on Tuesday to give way to another Kocharyan
appointee, the 30-year-old Vartan Kopyan. Kopyan
was elected deputy chairman of the oversight body
the next day.
Naghdalyan was shot and fatally wounded as he
left his parents' home in the capital Yerevan
on December 28. The killing was widely condemned
by Armenian politicians and journalists.
Kocharyan vowed to "do everything"
to bring its perpetrators to justice. However,
state prosecutors investigating the shooting have
not yet identified any suspects despite brief
arrests of several dozen opposition activists
on New Year's eve. Some Kocharyan supporters have
accused unnamed opposition forces of masterminding
the killing, linking it to the approaching presidential
The allegations were on Wednesday rebutted by
a coalition of 16 opposition parties which said
Naghdalyan's death resulted from "the atmosphere
of impunity" reigning in Armenia. "The
unfolding hysteria already involves threats of
a witch hunt and repression of political opponents
[of the regime]," they said in a joint statement.
The opposition again urged law-enforcement bodies
to explore a possible link between the latest
high-profile shooting and the October 1999 massacre
in the Armenian parliament. Some opposition leaders
have argued that Naghdalyan was a major witness
in the latter case and was due to testify at the
ongoing trial of five parliament gunmen.
Harutyunyan's appointment as new TV boss may
lead to more such calls. Harutyunyan was arrested
in December 1999 on suspicion of complicity in
the parliament shootings. He strongly denied the
charges and was released for lack of evidence
four months later.
Some friends and relatives of the attack victims
who are in opposition to Kocharyan still suspect
him of involvement in the bloodbath that left
eight senior officials dead.
In a related development, the Council of Europe
on Wednesday added its voice to international
condemnation of Naghdalyan's killing. "The
killing of a leading media personality is not
only a crime against that person, but an attack
on freedom of the media," the council's secretary
general, Walter Schwimmer, said in a statement
from Strasbourg. "I call on the competent
Armenian authorities to conduct a thorough and
transparent investigation in order to bring those
responsible to justice."