Media Battle v. Corruption: Is the Army the Mirror of Society? (Part II)

Vahram Martirosyan

Writer, screenwriter

Mediamart (Media Battle) is a digital game developed by the Media Initiatives Center [also responsible for this site] for journalism enthusiasts. Independent Armenia’s media already has more than a quarter of a century of history, but media coverage of corruption (the fight against corruption) is more like a game — at least in terms of effectiveness. 

5. Is the army the mirror of society? (Part II)

The Four-Day April War created an atmosphere of public mobilization in Armenia. At the same time, the loss of an 800-hectare territory and a significant number of victims evoked serious public discontent toward the political and military leadership.

According to media reports, Chief of the General Staff of the RA Armed Forces Yuri Khachaturov the evening before the attack was playing billiards “at the Eiffel club, which he owns.” He was warned several times about the maneuvers from the Azerbaijani side, but the colonel-general replied, “Don’t pay attention to the Azeris.”

In the GalaTV.am video, Khachaturov, successfully breaking the blockade of journalists, denies this information rather frankly.

True, there are ten-year-old publications where he is accused of gambling, which could’ve been cause for criminal negligence.

“Among those delirious with army-building, doesn’t a question arise on with whose money or whose account Y. Khachaturov is wasting millions in casinos?” asks the newspaper Chorrord Inqnishkhanutyun in an article titled “Khachaturov Is Seen Often in Casinos and Pool Halls” (October 25, 2008).

No official response has been made about this or the news stories of Khachaturov opening a new pool hall in August 2016 and one that is closer to his workplace. 

In 2009, Chorrord Inqnishkhanutyun published an entire series of articles on the unlawful business activities of military servicemen, one of whom was later closely connected to the “buffalo meat” case.

The other, now working in the police force, was to be accused of using violence against demonstrators and intimidating voters. “If you get a Lori native to talk, he will definitely begin the list of forest devourers with major-generals Arshaluys Paytyan and Lyova Yeranosyan’s names” (“The Generals, the Prosecutor, and Hayantar [Armforest],” February 10, 2009).

Another corruption scandal followed the April War: three senior defense ministry officials were arrested in May — for appropriating145 million AMD. Later, the preventative measure for former chief of the Ministry of Defense’s Armament Department Melsik Chilingaryan was changed because of a health condition, and the online media, at least, no longer turned its attention to the case proceedings.

In the army, however, there are more important issues than senior officials’ gambling and unlawful business activities — the murders, first of all.

According to human rights advocate Avetik Ishkhanyan, until the early 2000s, the media was guided by the principle of “about the army, either good [news] or nothing at all,” while law enforcement agencies were ordered to present the murders as suicides. 

According to media reports, subsequent attempts to conceal the murders were repeated. 

In an interview recorded by Epress.am, expert Ruben Martirosyan presents a desolate picture: “The preliminary investigative body, in all the cases I know, removes the fingerprints on the weapon” (“‘Typical Murder’: Expert Participates in Autopsy of Three Killed Soldiers,” June 21, 2014).

Of course, theoretically it’s possible that there is no longer the order of the supreme command of the government or army, and the elimination of fingerprints is purely the consequence of law enforcement agencies’ corruption deals, but some chilling incidents suggest that the defense ministry still has a long way to go to get clean.

“Deputy head of the Department of Social Security of the RA Ministry of Defense, Colonel Davit Davtyan, as stated by the National Security Service press service… asked and received US $1,000 from the soldier’s parents allegedly for speeding up the providing of free financial assistance, as prescribed by law, to the low-income family of the soldier killed while on duty” (“Arrested While Accepting a Bribe,” Hayastani Hanrapetutyun [Republic of Armenia], September 11, 2013).

Accordingly, it’s unfortunate, but not surprising, that after the April War the number of murders and suicides in the army have not decreased.

Hetq.am Editor-in-Chief Edik Baghdasaryan is convinced that “the army should become one of the main topics in the media.”

While in the opinion of journalist Vahe Sarukhanyan, who is well-informed on the topic of the army, in the media “there’s internal censorship — we’re trying not to hit the army,” but the Armed Forces leadership also shouldn’t conceal anything.

The demand for transparency that journalists are proposing is quite understandable and urgent, but instead a mess prevails, even in evaluations of the scandalous corruption cases that the media has been covering for 20–25 years.

(To be continued.)

The start of the article series here.

Vahram Martirosyan
Head of the Media Initiatives Center’s Lratun media museum project

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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