Disappeared police officer’s family calls for justice: ‘Where’s Arshak?’

Four years on, human rights activists believe police force members were involved

Arshak Karhanyan has been missing since February 24, 2019. 

A Metropolitan Police Officer taking the day off, little is known about what happened on the day he went missing and human rights activists suspect that some of his own colleagues on the force may have been involved. Karhanyan was 27 when he disappeared.

“Since that day, I’ve explained over and over how desperate I am – but no one reached out,” said Vardush Datyvian, his mother, nicknamed “Rosita.” “I hoped for something more, but we’re alone.” 

Datyvian and her eldest son Tigran have been on a lonely search since the beginning, as they received no support from other police officers, Karhanyan’s former colleagues. Human rights activists believe they were involved in his disappearance.

“We went into the police station to see if they knew something but not to file a complaint because we were afraid,” Datyvian told the Herald, describing how they started looking for him the following day when he stopped answering phone calls. “We’re Armenian, we don’t have any connections here. We’ve been searching for him ever since.” 

“It was as if he had never worked there”

Today marks four years since the last time Karhanyan was seen alive and the events leading to his disappearance remain unclear. 

What is known is that Karhanyan had been working for ten straight days before the carnival long weekend. On the 24th, he had a day off. At noon, security cameras showed him outside his building in Caballito speaking to Leonel Herba, another City Police officer. Forty minutes later, he entered his flat, took a shower, changed clothes, and withdrew AR$ 2,000 from an ATM. After that, he walked into a hardware store and bought a shovel. The footage from outside the shop is the last proof of him alive. 

Upon reporting Karhanyan missing, the cybercrime investigation unit of the police reset his phone and computer to factory default. It was a mistake, allegedly, although the same thing happened with Herba’s devices when requested for investigation. 

“It was as if he had never worked there,” said Datyvian. 

However, one potentially damning phone audio from Jazmín Soto, Herba’s ex girlfriend, was recovered in 2021: 

“You keep fooling around, making people disappear […] a person went missing, and you’re the key suspect – it’s not me who’s being chased by the justice system, who’s about to lose their job, I haven’t fucked anyone’s life […]” said Soto. “I even covered for you to the prosecutor’s office, and I’ve omitted a lot of information that I had to prevent you from getting dirtier.” 

Herba has not been detained and continues to work as a police officer. 

In fact, the case has not advanced significantly in the past four years. In 2021, the National Secretariat of Human Rights requested to join the plaintiffs and update the charges to “forced disapparition.” Judge Alberto Baños, in charge of the case, denied both requests. 

Following that denial, the Secretariat entered the case in 2022 as Datyvian’s sponsor. Horacio Pietragalla, head of the Secretariat, told the Herald that they want to “move the investigation forward,” find the person responsible and make sure they’re sanctioned.” 

“There have been serious mistakes in this investigation,” said Pietragalla. “The police are concealing what happened, and Judge Baños is their accomplice – we requested that the police be removed from the investigation, but the Judge denied that request, too.”

 According to Argentina’s criminal code, forces suspected of being involved in the crime must be kept away from being the investigators of the crime. But in the case of Karhanyan’s disappearance, the judge has overlooked this rule, according to Pietragalla. 

As a sponsor for the family, representatives at the Secretariat have networked with other prosecutors and courts to try to locate Karhanyan, requesting information about unidentified bodies from several locations that have been found since February 24, 2019,. No matches were found yet.  

Source: Victoria Montenegro

Scattered support

In 2021, mother and son hosted a visit by President Alberto Fernández, City Legislator Victoria Montenegro, and Congressman Leonardo Santoro on the third anniversary of Karhanyan’s disappearance, organized by Montenegro.

“I was honored,” said the searching mother to the Herald. “If it weren’t for Victoria Montenegro’s support, no one would remember Karhanyan.” 

Victoria Montenegro, whose parents were forcefully disappeared during the dictatorship, is a Frente de Todos legislator in Buenos Aires and highly committed to human rights. She has insisted since the beginning that the justice system should consider Karhanyan’s case as a forced disappearance given the potential role of the police — what little known from the investigation points to a police officer, Hebra, being one of the last people to see him alive and the City Police mishandling evidence.

However, there are no hypotheses as to what happened: human rights activists told the Herald that it was probably linked to something that Karhanyan knew or saw as an officer, but it’s hard to prove with so little leads.

Support has grown, but there’s still a long way to go to find out what happened to Karhanyan. Two weeks ago, Datyvian got a phone call from Pope Francis himself. “He said he was going to pray for me and my son,” she said, traces of a smile lightening her voice for the first time during the interview. “It gave me a bit of hope”. 

But it quickly vanished. 

“People tell me he will come back, but there’s not much more they can do.” 
Karhanyan’s family and supporters will gather today at 17:00 in front of Congress to call for him to be found alive.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald