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 October 3, 2003 

The Naghdalyan Case: Wife of defendant claims her husband is a scapegoat

Hovhaness "Aper" Harutyunyan (blue shirt) had his day in court.

The trial in the murder of journalist Tigran Naghdalyan resumed Tuesday with anticipation of testimony from Hovhaness "Aper" Harutyunyan.

Harutyunyan is considered a crucial link between Naghdalyan's killer and the source who ordered his assassination. Harutyunyan is also a relative of Armen Sargsyan, a defendant who is accused of hiring the killing.

But as a full and tense Courtroom awaited the testimony, the session in fact began with a woman escorted by a policeman approaching Judge Seribek Aramyan demanding to be heard.

It became known that the woman was Gayane Melkonyan, Harutyunyan's wife and a scheduled witness. (The law prohibits witnesses who have not testified from being present in court when others are testifying. But prosecutor Zelim Tadevosyan, without announcement, brought Melkonyan inside.)

Melkonyan gave the judge a note, said to have been written to her by Harutyunyan six months ago, while he was in hiding from law enforcement.

"I've been keeping silence for six months but I can't anymore. I know Aper doesn't want me to speak but I have to," Melkonyan said. She also said that she has been threatened and has received anonymous phone calls and was weary of the circumstance and wanted to testify immediately.

Judge Aramyan told her that she should have notified police about the threats. Still, she demanded to be questioned out of turn.

Prosecutors and two defense attorneys conferred and agreed to have her questioned. Three other attorneys objected to the change of schedule, and Harutyunyan himself petitioned the judge to not allow his wife to testify, but was rebuked by the judge. Harutyunyan was in tears after his objections were denied.

Prosectuor Tadevosyan issued a motion to hear defendant Sargsyan's opinion before allowing Melkonyan to testify. (Sargsyan is the brother of the late Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan, who was assassinated in the October 27, 1999 parliament killings. Click here to see previous stories.)

After the court consulted with the Sargsyan defense, Melkonyan was allowed to speak.

"Being an Armenian woman I am obliged to protect my husband," she began. "Aper told me he had nothing to do with Naghdalyan's murder and asked me to find out from Armen (Sargsyan) what he must do."

Harutyunyan sent the letter from his hiding place. It continued:

"If everything continues the way it is now, if they want me to be the one who ordered the murder, then tell Greta (Sargsyans' mother) that she doesn't put easy cushions under my head. Tell Greta that I cannot stay (in hiding) for a long time. Tell Grigor (defendant Grigor Petrosyan) to say that he knows nothing. Don't tell even Araratsis (residents of Ararat city) about my hiding place."

From this note Harutyunyan's wife concluded that Armen Sargsyan had ordered the murder. According to her, her husband told her before leaving the house that he was involved in Naghdalyan's murder because of Armen Sargsyan and: "now I'm bearing the dirt Armen had dropped."

The witness said that she visited Ararat two times and met with Greta Sargsyan asking her to hire a lawyer for her husband. During her visit to Yerablur (where Vazgen Sargsyan is buried) she also talked with Aram Sargsyan (another brother, and former presidential candidate), however, she hadn't gotten any help.

According to Melkonyan, during the time that Harutyunyan was hiding Greta Sargsyan and her relatives had told her that Armen Sargsyan's response was: "Let him try to not be caught and if he is caught, let him shoulder the crime".

Gayane Melkonyan also confirmed the testimonies she had given during preliminary investigation and then she answered questions asked by the participants of the trial, including Armen Sargsyan.

Sargsyan questioned Melkonyan, asking:

"Why on March 5 in Yerablur didn't you come to me to say that 'Aper says he is bearing the dirt Armen had dropped', but instead you approached Aram?"

Melkonyan responded: "I didn't approach you as I didn't want to cause harm to you."

When Harutyunyan finally did get his chance to testify Wednesday, he refused (although he had been willing to testify before his wife gave her statement).

"Take my testimonies given during preliminary investigation as a basis. I'm not going to answer any questions," he told the court.

During videotaped interrogation on March 21, Harutyunyan told investigators that he knew from (defendant) Gegham Shahbazyan about plans of killing "a TV worker".

Harutyunyan testified that he visited Armen Sargsyan three times for money and in total he received $60,000. He gave $44,000 Shahbazyan and kept the rest because Shahbazyan was in debt to him.

On the video tape during the whole questioning defendant Harutyunyan appeared relaxed, he was smoking and he was offered coffee.

Investigator: Whose idea was it to kill Tigran Naghdalyan?
Harutyunyan: In the beginning it was Liova's (Harutyunyan) and later Armen's.
Investigator: Were you going to kill Naghdalyan?
Harutyunyan: I didn't know him and I had never had any plans for killing him. I also wasn't interested in the money at all. Only proceeding from family sentiments I took part in it. For many years I have never asked them for money.
Investigator: What do you think is your guilt? What was your part?
Harutyunyan: You know my part better than me. It turns out to be I was a connecting link. I took money then I brought money, then I gave money.
Investigator: Didn't Armen Sargsyan tell you why he was going to kill him?
Harutyunyan: He didn't talk about that (in another published testimony he said that Shahbazyan had told him that Naghdalyan had had a hand in the October 27 incident).
Investigator: He was going to kill a man. Wasn't it interesting for you, why?
Harutyunyan: I don't know, they had already arranged about it, what could I…

When court resumes Tuesday, Armen Sargsyan will have a chance to question his accusers, afterwhich he will testify.

According to Agnes
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