Revisiting an ARF Member’s Murder 18 Years Later

A murder of an ARF member in Paplavok

A witness at the time of the murder, whose testimony was thrown out, says he is willing to submit his testimony again

BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN

The murder case was officially closed in 2002. However, the brutal beating death of Javakhk resident and Armenian Revolutionary Federation member Poghos Poghosian at a popular Yerevan café on September 25, 2001 and the subsequent trial of one of then-president Robert Kocharian’s bodyguards, Aghamal Harutunyan, who received a suspended sentence for involuntary manslaughter, has not faded from memory.

Late on the evening of September 24, 2001, Poghosian and his friend Stepan Nalbandyan were at the popular Aragast Café, known as the Paplavok jazz club in Yerevan when Kocharian and his entourage of heavily-armed bodyguards entered the café accompanied by Charles Aznavour. Upon their departure, Poghosian reportedly approached the Kocharian entourage and said “What’s up Rob (Privet Rob),” (short for Robert). Minutes after this encounter, seven Kocharian bodyguards, among them Harutunyan, who is known as “Kuku,” stormed the café’s subterranean lavatory where they allegedly beat Nalbandyan and Poghosian, who was later pronounced dead.

At the time of the trial, the ARF in Armenia called the official investigation “flawed” and said that the evidence in the case was not properly being examined.

Steve Newton is the British witness whose testimony was thrown out in 2002 because it was in English

British citizen Stephen Newton, who at the time was working on European Tacis project, was also at Paplavok that evening and witnessed the brutal beating of Poghosian and Nalbandyan.

Newton offered his testimony in a lengthy statement, which later was thrown out by Mnatsakan Martirosyan, the presiding judge of “Kuku”’s 2002 trial, because he said it was in English. He forwarded his testimony to several international watchdog organization, one of which, Human Rights Watch, closely monitored the case.

“Although dozens witnessed as the bodyguards began to beat Poghosian on the terrace of the Aragast café, fear of retribution and a resulting conspiracy of silence have starved the investigation of reliable testimony,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement in December 2001.

Newton is back in Armenia and in an interview on Wednesday told Azatutyun.am that he would be willing to submit his testimony again, if prosecutors were interested in reexamining the case. He also said that the day after the Paplavok event, the UK Ambassador at the time arranged for him to leave Armenia for Romania, since he feared for his life.

“I stood up and ran to the toilet, entered, and as I went down the stairs I saw a powerfully built, 35-40 year-old man beating Stepan Nalbandian. He thumped Nalbandian in the head. He held Nalbandian’s collar with his left hand and was about to thump him again with his right fist. I put my hand up to the assailant’s face and shouted `Stop this’. The assailant looked me straight in the eyes and stopped beating Nalbandian. He brushed past me up the toilet steps and went out and I went two meters forward to see the feet of Poghosian protruding from the toilet cubicle. I approached closer and saw Poghosian lying on the floor, face up, next to the toilet. It was clear to me that Poghosian had been very badly beaten around the head, probably kicked, and a large lump on his left temple, about the size of a thumb, indicated a possible blow from a pistol or similar blunt instrument. The skin all around his eyes was puffed and swelled up like that of a boxer after a fight in which he has taken a lot of hard blows to the face. In fact, because of the swelling you could hardly see Poghosian’s eyes, and the swelling of his face generally made it about twenty percent larger than normal. It was a sickening, terrible sight, the memory of which I still find deeply disturbing. Poghosian was still just alive at this point – frothing in his mouth, and making gurgling, rasping noises. Because he was wearing clothes I could not see any other injuries on him, nor could I see the back of his head. I do not recall seeing much blood. I told the guards, who all appeared shorter than the man who had been attacking Stepan Nalbandian on the stairs, `You have killed him. Get a doctor to this man now,’” Newton said in his statment.

Aghamal Harutunyan, also known as “Kuku” received a suspended sentence for killing Poghosian

“The guards were joined by people from the President’s office, who entered from outside. About five of these new people appeared. They were young men. I recognized them as belonging to the president’s staff both because some were wearing special radio earpieces, and because I knew at least one of them by his face. They shouted phrases to the guards that included the repeated word: `Britanski! Britanski!’ I suppose they were telling the guards that I was British and that they should leave. I shouted that the man (Poghosian) needed medical attention, as he was unconscious. The President’s men spoke to me in English. One of them said to me: `Don’t worry. We will deal with this. You should leave now’. Very keyed up, distrustful of their motives, and not wanting to leave Poghosian alone with his tormentors and their friends, I replied: ` I am not leaving here until you bring an ambulance and …(because I could not think of anything better at that point) the British ambassador.’ During this verbal exchange the guards who had been involved in the attack left the toilet,” added Newton in his deposition.

On Thursday, Arevik Khachatryan, a spokesperson for Armenia’s Prosecutor General’s office said that her office was examining the details of Newton’s claims in the press. Last September, Andranik Poghosian, the victim’s brother called on officials to reopen the case.

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