BY MARIA TITIZIAN
It is 4 o’clock in the morning and my son is driving back from the hospital. He has been there all night covering the assassination attempt against presidential candidate Paryur Hayrikyan for Civilnet. As he turns on to Abovyan Street he sees a police cruiser swing around, and he thinks to himself he’s going to get pulled over. Sure enough the police car stops him. As my son is taking out his license from his wallet, the police officer walks toward him, salutes and introduces himself as is the custom here in Armenia. He asks for Daron’s license and registration and says to him, “Mr. Titizian, do you know why I pulled you over?” Daron replies, “No, I really can’t imagine what I’ve done.” As the police officer is looking at his license, he remarks, “So, you are from Canada.” My son answers in the affirmative. The police officer says, “Son, one of your headlights isn’t working. Now, what would the police in Canada fine you for that?” My son, after brief reflection, says, “You don’t want to know.” Now this may sound like a logical answer, but my son was nine years old when we moved to Armenia, he doesn’t have a Canadian license, hence he has never driven in Canada and really doesn’t know if having a burned out headlight warrants a ticket, but he assumes it does.
Curious, the police officer asks him what he’s doing driving on the abandoned streets of Yerevan in the middle of the night. My son tells him that he’s returning to his office to drop off equipment after work. The police officer, even more curious now, asks what kind of work he does that keeps him out so late. Daron shows him his press badge, which is still around his neck and says, “I was at Surb Grigor Lusavorich Hospital, filming the events around the assassination attempt against Payrur Hayrikyan.” The police officer’s eyes widen, he leans in and asks, “My son, how is Mr. Hayrikyan?” Daron explains that the bullet has lodged in his shoulder and that he will most likely be operated on in the morning to remove the bullet, but there’s no imminent threat to his life. “Thank God, thank God,” replies the police officer. He pats my son on the shoulder and says, “Please make sure to fix your headlight, it’s not only for your safety but for the safety of others.” He then proceeds to salute once again and before sending my son off without giving him a ticket, says, “Next time, just show your badge and all will be forgiven.”
This might seem like an insignificant exchange between a police officer and a driver, but it exemplifies how we feel and act when something violent and completely unexpected takes place in our lives. We begin to band together, we discuss and debate, we argue and agree and then disagree. And as we search for answers to an illogical crime, we unexpectedly and almost organically unite. Not always, but sometimes…
It’s still too early to know who would want to kill Payrur Hayrikyan, a well known Soviet dissident and public figure in the country, what his or their motivations were and what they hoped to accomplish. All I know is that we are a nation in shock today. Shock, because of who the target was. Shock, because Hayrikyan didn’t pose a threat to anyone. Shock, because these kinds of things shouldn’t happen.
Possible scenarios and theories are rapidly making their way across neighborhoods, towns and cities. Was it a foreign power? Could it be an Azerbaijani or Turkish plot? Could it be the authorities or perhaps some local underground power who wants to derail the election process? Did the shooter intentionally shoot Hayrikyan in such a way as to ensure that he wouldn’t actually kill him but create enough chaos in the country to foment further instability?
All the presidential candidates rushed to the hospital when they heard the news, even Andreas Ghugassyan who has been holding a hunger strike since the campaign began. The country’s prime minister, speaker of the parliament, ministers, security personnel and other high-ranking politicians from most of the political parties made their way to the hospital to visit Hayrikyan, including the country’s President Serzh Sarkisian.
No one can digest these perverted turn of events. Some are calling for the resignation of the chief of police. Others are asking why the presidential candidates don’t have assigned security detail.
It’s remarkable how quickly things change. Last week we were all grumbling about the uninspired and lackluster election campaign, today we are talking about assassination attempts against a presidential candidate. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, this event struck yet another blow to Armenia’s security and fledgling democracy.