- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
February 13, 2004

Wrong Note: Guitarist exposed as email blackmailer

Emmi, center, was threatened with Internet blackmail.

A teenage singer has been the target of a blackmail attempt involving a threat to publish a fake nude photograph of her.

Nineteen-year-old Emmi, a daughter of the famous singer Nadezhda Sargsyan and sculptor David Bejanyan, received an email containing a picture of a naked girl with her face superimposed upon it. The sender demanded $500, warning that he would distribute the picture to every newspaper and website in Armenia if she did not pay.

“In the beginning I didn't pay much attention to that. Emmi even started to negotiate with the author as a joke,” says Nadezhda. “However, when the author began threatening more often and writing things like, ‘you have 30 minutes left, you have 10 minutes left, if you don't come then your life will turn into hell', we realized that it was much more serious.”

Emmi's parents hurried to the National Security Service for help. It began an investigation that soon revealed that the blackmailer had sent the fake picture and letters from the personal computer of a musician in their own band, guitarist Hovak Alaverdyan.

Mother and daughter were astonished, saying they had both worked with Alaverdyan for a long time and regarded him as an educated and balanced person. However, as the National Security Service was already involved in the case, the 25-year-old musician was charged with blackmail under paragraph 182 of the Criminal Code.

One of Armenia's top five guitarists thus appeared before the court and pleaded guilty. The court of first instance of Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeytun communities sentenced him to six months' imprisonment on February 6.

“I confirm that what I've done was not good but I insist that I never had an intention to take money from Emmi or hand over these photographs to press,” Alaverdyan told the judge.

After the verdict, the musician was sent immediately to an isolation cell. His parents plan to appeal, saying they were shocked that their son had been placed in isolation like a dangerous criminal.

Alaverdyan's father called his son's action "a game" and said the punishment was too severe.

Emmi's family sees it very differently, her father considering that the punishment was even too soft. He said: “Why say that it was only a game and that it wasn't serious? Did he have to rape her before it should be taken seriously? Even I was afraid. What does it mean to demand money and threaten to spread over the entire Internet a photograph of a naked girl with the face of my daughter?”

Alaverdyan's motive for his actions remains unclear as he did not offer an explanation in court. The victim believes it is a strange case of unrequited love.

“The words ‘fall in love' were mentioned by the man quite a few times. But even if his love had been rejected he should have acted like a man. Maybe he wished simply to promote his name by that,” says Emmi.

In his speech to the judges, Alaverdyan claimed that they had corresponded by email for a month and that it had all been a game. He argued that Emmi could have changed her email address easily and must have accepted the game if she did not do so.

Other musicians who have worked with the guitarist also expressed their surprise at his actions. The singer Forsh said he could not understand how such a talented man could forget his art and become involved in computer blackmail.

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