YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s controversial Culture Minister Hovik Hoveyan was forced to step down late Thursday over reports that he attacked and pistol-whipped electricity workers after a cut-off in power supplies to his apartment.
After an emergency meeting with the governing Orinats Yerkir Party–of which he is a member–Hoveyan said: "Unwilling to give rise to unnecessary attacks on my party and government partners and considering the fact that attempts to exploit the issue have already been made–I announce my resignation."
According to the Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA)–Hoveyan–his son and several other men visited a power distribution station in Yerevan on Wednesday to express their fury with the disruption of power–which the national power utility says occurred on New Year’s Eve and lasted for about 20 minutes.
"They used force against our workers," ENA spokeswoman Margarit Grigorian said. "Two of them were hit by pistol butts and taken to hospital with injuries."
Grigorian claimed that the ENA office was attacked shortly after receiving an angry phone call from the minister’s apartment.
The national Police Service confirmed that ENA workers were beaten up. "Circumstances of the incident are being clarified and relevant materials are being prepared," its chief spokesman–Sayad Shirinian said. He refused to give any further details–saying only that no criminal case has been opened yet.
Hoveyan was interrogated by the police regarding the incident. Also questioned were the two utility workers who were allegedly injured by the minister and his son–the sources said. The police and ENA refused to identify them.
Hoveyan initially denied any involvement in the incident. He claimed to be lying in a hospital bed with a fever when contacted by phone on Wednesday. "They are lying," he said of the allegations.
Speaking on Thursday–Hoveyan admitted that he went to the utility office the previous day but came up with a different version of the event. He claimed that power cuts in his apartment building in central Yerevan were "periodical and long-lasting" between December 31 and January 4 and that its residents repeatedly got "rude answers" to their inquiries. Hoveyan said a group of those residents–including his son–decided to visit the ENA station and he joined them later on.
"I witnessed a scuffle when I got in," he said. "More than a dozen people attacked several residents and my son ? I intervened and tried to calm things down. I think that no father–no Armenian person could have behaved differently in such a situation."
Hoveyan did not clarify whether he was armed and whether he hit anyone with a pistol or otherwise.