By Emil Danielyan
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian was anxious on Sunday to squelch any speculation associating Armenia with an ethnic Armenian citizen of Georgia who has confessed to throwing a hand grenade towards U.S. President George W. Bush in Tbilisi last May.
“Suspect Vladimir Arutiunian has no connection with Armenia or Armenians,” Markarian was reported to state during a visit to Georgia. Attempts to claim the opposite would be “absolutely inappropriate,” he said.
The Armenian authorities earlier denied suggestions that the grenade allegedly thrown by the 27-year-old man during Bush’s May 10 address to a huge crowd in Tbilisi was made in Armenia. The spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Yerevan, Seyran Shahsuvarian, told RFE/RL on Friday that Armenia only briefly manufactured combat grenades during the early 1990s.
The grenade landed within 30 meters (100 feet) of Bush as he spoke to tens of thousands of people in Tbilisi’s Freedom Square. U.S. officials said it only failed to explode because of a malfunction. Georgian officials claimed at the time that the explosive device was manufactured in Russia and modified in Armenia for use in the war with Azerbaijan.
Georgia’s Prosecutor-General Zurab Adeilashvili met with his Armenian counterpart Aghvan Hovsepian in Tbilisi on Thursday and indicated afterward that the issue was not on the meeting’s agenda. “The suspect is a Georgian citizen, the incident took place in Georgia and therefore has no connection with Armenia,” Georgian news agencies quoted Adeilashvili as saying. “We are looking for evidence and relevant information in Georgia.”
Arutiunian, identified as Arutiunov in some press reports, was arrested on July 20 after a late-night gunfight with Georgian security officers that raided his apartment in a Tbilisi suburb. One of the policemen was killed in the shootout.
Arutiunian was seriously wounded before being arrested and hospitalized. The Georgian police have since released a video of the suspect confessing to the grenade attack. But his motives are still not clear. Reuters news agency quoted Georgia’s Deputy Health Minister Irakli Giorgobiani as saying that doctors at the hospital where Arutiunian is being treated believe “he may not have been in control of himself at the time.”
For his part, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who stood beside Bush during the Tbilisi rally, said earlier last week that the grenade would not threaten the U.S. president’s life if it exploded. He said the purpose of the attack was to undermine Georgia’s international reputation.