By Ruzanna Khachatrian
State prosecutors in Yerevan were investigating on Thursday the previous day’s killing of three people in an ambush attack which some observers link to a bitter dispute between a notorious politician and one of Armenia’s wealthiest men.
A taxi carrying two nephews of former parliament deputy Ruben Gevorgian and their companion reportedly came under automatic gunfire in a southern suburb of the Armenian capital on Wednesday afternoon.
Three of them, including the driver and one of the nephews, the 22-year-old Arkady Gevorgian, were shot dead. His 19-year-old brother was hospitalized with serious injuries which doctors say no longer threaten his life. The third victim, Garik Harutiunian, turned out to be the deputy head of the Armenian Defense Ministry’s medical department.
A senior prosecutor at the city’s southern Erebuni district, Mikael Badirian, told RFE/RL that the shootings bore the hallmarks of a carefully planned ambush. “An active investigation is underway and we hope to solve the crime very quickly,” he said.
Badirian said the law-enforcement authorities have several theories of the crime but do not yet have evidence to charge or arrest anyone. He also said that no eyewitnesses of the shootings have come forward so far.
The shootings have rekindled memories of a similar incident last November when unknown assailants opened fire on another nephew of Gevorgian and his friends, killing one of them. The incident was widely attributed to an apparent business dispute between then deputy Gevorgian and a close relative of Samvel Aleksanian, a government-connected millionaire businessman.
The November incident took place in the city’s western Davitashen district which Gevorgian ran for several years before being elected to parliament in 1999. Davitashen was until recently considered his exclusive area of economic and political influence, with most local businesses connected to him in one way or another.
The hegemony was strongly challenged by Aleksanian when his wife’s brother opened a large grocery store there. The business itself is insignificant for Aleksanian who enjoys a de facto monopoly on the highly lucrative imports of wheat, sugar and alcohol to Armenia.
Gunshots were heard in Davitashen late on Wednesday after news of the Erebuni killings reached the area dotted with Soviet-era apartment blocks. Witnesses said someone opened fire at the controversial shop. No casualties were reported. The nearby houses of Gevorgian and the Aleksanian relative were under heavy police guard on Thursday.
Prosecutor Badirian did not deny that the investigators are exploring a possible link between the two mafia-style shootings which highlight the shady sides of politics and business in Armenia. That the two are interconnected is evidenced by the differing fortunes of Aleksanian and Gevorgian. The former ran for parliament unopposed, easily securing his seat in the May 25 elections.
Gevorgian, by contrast, was defeated by another wealthy businessman, Harutiun Pambukian, who is reportedly close to President Robert Kocharian. Gevorgian, notorious for his hardline nationalist rhetoric, is a senior member of the Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans. The organization, which nearly forced Kocharian into resignation in late 1999, has lost much of its political clout in recent years.