By Ruzanna Stepanian
Law-enforcement authorities declined on Monday to divulge any details of their investigation into a high-profile gunfight in downtown Yerevan that threatened to disrupt a dinner between the presidents of Armenia and Georgia late on Friday.
President Robert Kocharian entertained his visiting Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili in his favorite nightspot when gunfire erupted in an adjacent cafe. Police said five men aged between 30 and 23 were hospitalized as a result of what is widely believed to be a bitter dispute between rival groups of individuals. At least one of them is related to a member of the Armenian government.
Citing police sources, the Associated Press reported that the clash involved two “criminal groups” and that one man was subsequently arrested by the police. The information could not be officially confirmed. The national Police Service referred all inquiries to the Yerevan prosecutor’s office, saying that the investigation is conducted by the latter. But officials there could not be reached for comment throughout the day.
Three of the victims ended up in intensive care at the city’s Nork hospital. One of them was stabbed in the abdomen and was still in a serious condition on Monday, according to hospital officials.
Minister for Urban Development Ara Aramian confirmed that another injured man, identified as Hayk Aramian, is his son. Aramian referred to him as an “exemplary young man” who has never carried firearms. He claimed that he is not aware of possible reasons for the shootout and his son’s involvement in it. He also denied reports that Hayk Aramian was wounded by the relative of another highly-placed official.
There were unconfirmed rumors that the son of Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian, one of the most influential Armenian cabinet members, also took part in the café clash and escaped unscathed.
The shooting occurred only 20 meters from the Aragast jazz café which Kocharian commonly visits with foreign dignitaries. It earned notoriety in September 2001 when a man was found dead in its restroom moments after Kocharian left the place together French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour.
According to eyewitnesses accounts, Poghos Poghosian, an ethnic Armenian citizen of Georgia, was beaten to death by presidential bodyguards after greeting the head of state in a way which they found disrespectful. Only one of the security officers was prosecuted and given a one-year suspended jail sentence amid allegations of a high-level cover-up.