Yerevan Mayor Taron Margaryan has resigned over allegations of corruption, according to opposition faction Yelk. Margaryan, from the Republican Party, has faced protests and calls for his resignation after a video was released by FACT TV documenting his supposed wealth.
On Wednesday, David Khazhakyan, head of the Yelk faction on Yerevan City Council, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Azatutyun, that Margaryan had signed his letter of resignation two or three days prior. The mayor’s office neither confirmed nor denied reports he stepped down.
The mayor was absent from the council on Tuesday ‘due to health problems’, according to his deputy Kamo Areyan, who chaired the meeting in his place. The head of the Yerkir Tsirani (Apricot Country) faction Zarui Postanjian protested his absence and demanded he be held accountable for ‘numerous cases of abuse of power, including election fraud’. They suggested fresh council elections and the appointment of a new mayor.
On Wednesday, Yerevan Municipality’s official website claimed Margaryan met with Saint Petersburg Vice Governor Anna Miityanina, who was in Yerevan on an official visit. Pictures posted by Miityanina of her meetings in Yerevan on Twitter and Instagram showed her meeting only deputy mayor Kamo Areyan and other officials.
The mayor’s absence followed protests outside city hall on Sunday, with demonstrators demanding Margaryan resign after a video was released revealing his supposed wealth. The video was produced by Aren Mkrtchyan, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s advisor on corruption, and was released on FACT TV (First Anti-Corruption TV). Mkrtchyan later that day asked protesters to unblock the building.
This was the second protest against Margaryan in recent months; the first occurred on 10 May, two days after Nikol Pashinyan was appointed Prime Minister.
Allegations of corruption gained traction after the National Security Service arrested Ashot Ghazaryam, the head of the Yerevan Foundation, as well as Khachatur Kirakosyan, the deputy head of Yerevan’s Davitashen District on 14 June. The mayor chairs the board of trustees of the foundation, which is affiliated with Yerevan’s municipal government.
The authorities under Pashinyan have been conducting a large-scale anti-corruption campaign with a number of high-profile arrests. Artak Manukyan, the Prime Minister’s advisor on economic issues, claimed that as a result of the anti-corruption campaign, ֏18 billion ($37 million) have been returned to the state budget.
On 16 June Vagharshapat Mayor Karen Grigoryan resigned amidst protests over allegations of corruption. His resignation followed the arrest of his father Manvel Grigorian, a veteran general and the head of army volunteers union Yerkrapah. On 23 June, he was charged with gross embezzlement.
Footage released of the raids on Manvel Grigorian’s properties, showing his wealth as well as dozens of weapons and army supplies he allegedly misappropriated, shocked the Armenian public. On 20 June, his wife Nazik Amiryan was also arrested on charges of illegally obtaining and possessing a large stock of arms.
Both father and son were affiliated with the formerly ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
[Read more about Grigoryans’ case on OC Media: Armenian ‘hero’ general arrested for stealing military aid]
In a 26 June meeting with law enforcement agencies, Pashinyan underlined that it was important to adhere ‘to lawfulness and the respect for human rights’ so that there would be no doubts that his government’s crackdown on corruption was politically motivated.
News.am quoted former US Ambassador to Georgia Kenneth S. Yalowitz as advising against repeating the ‘mistakes’ of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's government. '[The fight against corruption] should in no way become a fight against specific figures. It is necessary to implement serious reforms to the justice system, court structures, and also to separate political and economic spheres', said Yalowitz.