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21 06 2008 - Artur Asatryan, nicknamed Pepo,
Who Will Replace General Manvel in Etchmiadzin
Levon Hayrapetyan - April 21, 2008
On April 2nd President Robert Kocharyan signed a decree dismissing General Manvel Grigoryan from the post of Deputy Defense Minister. General Manvel Grigoryan, President of the Yerkrapah” (Volunteer Defenders of the Fatherland) organization, had expressed support for the candidacy of Levon Ter-Petrosyan.
This was the prime reason for his dismissal. President Serzh Sargsyan, during a March 13th Internet interview, stated that, “I very much regret and am truly sorry that he, for some inexplicable reason, attempted to enter the political fray and not subject himself to the directives of the Commander-in-Chief”.

The General’s fate, one might say, was predetermined. For years on end the media was full of stories regarding the illegal activities of General Manvel but the authorities failed to take any action in response. Immediately after the “downfall” of the General people from his own circle came forth ready to take action against him. One of the General’s closest confidantes, Ara Marukyan, who for many years used the General’s name in Etchmiadzin to do as he pleased, testified to the police on April 6th that General Grigoryan and his assistant, Zohrab Galstyan, had threatened to kill him. Based on this testimony criminal charges were brought against the General. In the past, the police had always cordoned off the house of Ara Manukyan while Manvel Grigoryan essentially ran the town of Etchmiadzin. The General had to sign off on any nomination of local officials. He and his family (his wife Nazik Amiryan also participated in the Karabakh War) built a large business empire in Etchmiadzin and in the Armavir Marz. Who will replace Manvel Grigoryan? Today, this is a question that seems to perplex not only the residents of Etchmiadzin.

From April 7 - 10, Artur Asatryan, nicknamed Pepo, originally from Etchmiadzin, was back in Armenia. Now residing in Italy, he returned in his own private jet and with a large group of bodyguards. He also attended Serzh Sargsyan's inaugural ceremonies.

In 1998, when General Manvel was busy solidifying his position in Etchmiadzin, Pepo left the town and Armenia. In Etchmiadzin they relate that the General did everything he could to push Pepo out of the picture because the General couldn't abide the presence of a second strongman on his turf. Using al the levers at his disposal, the General finally got the police to act on his behalf. According to our sources the police dredged up a past incident as an excuse to go after Asatryan. This incident involved the settling of a score between two rival factions, replete with daily gunfire, that resulted in the shooting death of an innocent passerby.

Local residents, when speaking about Artur Asatryan's days in Etchmiadzin, state that he was a daring young man who had his wits about him. This bravado was the result of his physical training he had as a former boxer. Indeed, at the age of 14 Asatryan was honored with the title of 'master sportsman'.

Seeking to avoid further potential clashes with General Grigoryan, Asatryan relocated to Moscow in 1998 and quickly became a successful businessman. Striking up a friendship with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Asatryan was able to expand into the cafe and restaurant business. Asatryan owns the cafes and bistros in all Moscow's airports.

As a result of his intimate links to Mayor Luzhkov, Asatryan recently acquired a large chunk of prime downtown Moscow real estate on which to build a trade and commerce center. After living in Moscow for a few years, Asatryan relocated to Italy, where he now resides.

According to another source of ours, the scope and type of Artur Asatryan's business empire isn't limited to Russia or the food and service industry. He is said to have various business concerns in Italy, France, Austria and Spain as well.

Pepo is also said to have strong ties to top political and business officials in a number of countries. He even has sympathetic deputies inside the Italian Parliament. It was with their assistance that he was able to get permission to erect a memorial wall depicting the era of Tigran the Great in the heart of Rome. The wall's official opening was broadcast in Armenia in a special «Haylur» report over Armenian Public TV.

Among the international election monitors that traveled to Armenia on February 19th were several close acquaintances of Pepo's as well. These individuals were officially greeted at Zvartnots Airport and whisked away to the Marriott Hotel, according to arrangements made by Pepo.

Residents have conflicting opinions regarding their former townsperson. Some say Asatryan is a serious and sincere guy who has learnt the lessons of his youthful mistakes and has developed into a mature individual. Others say he grew up connected to the criminal underworld and that he plays with dirty money.

Our source neither denied nor confirmed rumors that the Italian mafia has honored the 37 year-old Armenian with the title of 'Don’ and distributed a DVD about the fact. «I wouldn't rule the possibility out because the man's definitely playing at the high stakes level.»

It's also not beyond the realm of possibility that Pepo will have his favored candidate running in the upcoming mayoral elections in Etchmiadzin. The statement circulating in his circle of supporters that the first case of really free and fair elections will take place in Etchmiadzin, and that Pepo himself will guarantee such a result, also isn't accidental.

The most curious aspect of Pepo's make-up is his religious devotion. He attends church every day. When he came to the town of Etchmiadzin he headed straight to the Holy Cathedral and entered the doors on his knees. Witnesses claim that other bystanders and faithful were removed from the entrance so as not to witness the scene. After his reception with the Vehapar, doves were released into the skies above. Catholicos Garegin II has granted Pepo the permission to erect a chapel next to the private house he is building in Etchmiadzin.

We should note that the house, whose domes resemble that of a church, is in the final stages of construction. Armenian and Italian master craftsmen are doing all exterior and interior work on the house.

Annette Melikian

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