Armenia’s Deadly Dress Code

Investigators of a brutal Yerevan murder that sparked a popular outcry against Armenia’s oligarchs have reduced the incident to merely an argument over fashion sense gone badly wrong.

As Armenian police tell it, the June 29 death of military doctor Vahe Avetian was all about a restaurant taking its dress code very seriously . . . unlike the lives of its customers, apparently. The police alleged that a waiter, David Adamian, bickered with Avetian over his clothes until the two took it outside, where restaurant security beat the doctor and his friends up; in Avetian’s case, the beating led to his death, 12 days later. End of story.

The police account makes no mention of the restaurant owner, multi-millionaire businessman Ruben Hayrapetian, who claims he’s in as much shock over what happened as anybody. The prosecutor’s office refused a request by the Avetian family to consider Hayrapetian, a onetime parliamentarian for President Serzh Sargysan’s Republican Party of Armenia, as a suspect. Hayrapetian surrendered his seat in parliament after Avetian’s death.

But what’s mainly missing in the police account is the big picture. For rights activists and many ordinary Armenians, the incident was not just about one man’s death, but a wakeup call about the ways things are done in the country.

After Avetian’s death, many Armenians rallied against what they described as a tradition of allowing thuggish businessmen and their glazed-eyed bodyguards to run rampant.

Given the line adopted by the police, and a judiciary system tethered to the government, there appears little chance any court ruling can now cause that tradition to change, critics say.

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