By Karine Kalantarian and Hovannes Shoghikian
Police in Yerevan on Monday confirmed reports about a violent dispute between activists of Armenia’s two main establishment parties, but claimed that none of their senior figures was involved in it.
Armenian newspapers reported over the weekend that the incident occurred in the city’s southern Erebuni district on Thursday and involved the local leaders of the governing Republican Party (HHK) and the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of businessman Gagik Tsarukian. Citing unnamed government sources, they said the district’s Republican prefect, Mher Sedrakian, and a group of his loyalists attacked and beat up the head of the local BHK chapter, Harutiun Karapoghosian, after he refused to stop his party’s aggressive campaigning in the blue-collar area.
The row reportedly degenerated into a mass fight between local HHK and BHK activists and ended only after police intervention. President Robert Kocharian, who is believed to control the BHK, was said to have held an emergency meeting with the top HHK leader, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and the chief of the Armenian police, Hayk Harutiunian, later on Thursday.
But according to the chief of Yerevan’s police department, Major-General Nerses Nazarian, what happened was a mere “dispute of friendly character” in which neither Sedrakian nor Karapoghosian had any role. “There was really a dispute between local young people,” Nazarian told a news conference. “They have differing views on elections and other minor differences, but they are neighbors and friends.”
“But we managed to settle that minor dispute. They were warned against causing more such incidents,” he said.
Nazarian added that four men were detained and taken to the local police station for questioning. “They asked us not to turn their friendly relationship into criminal prosecution,” he said. “Their parents were invited to the police station, and they also talked to each other … In the end, they shook hands, hugged each other and were allowed to go.”
Launching criminal proceedings against them would therefore be a “very bad thing,” reasoned the police general.
Erebuni has for years been considered a de facto fiefdom of Sedrakian, who has extensive business interests in the district and is regarded as a crime figure by some media and opposition leaders. Sedrakian, who is better known to locals as Tokhmakhi Mher, actively campaigned for the HHK’s and Kocharian’s victory in the 2003 parliamentary and presidential elections.
Sedrakian narrowly survived an apparent assassination attempt in July 2003 when his car was rocked by a bomb. Nobody was ever prosecuted in connection with the blast.
The latest Erebuni incident was the first reported instance of violence between representatives of the HHK and the BHK. It will stoke lingering speculation about a potentially bitter rivalry between the two parties that are likely to grab the largest number of seats in Armenia’s next parliament.
Neither party officially commented on the incident on Monday. But one senior Republican described it as a “provocation against both parties” which he said was organized by the opposition Orinats Yerkir Party of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. Gagik Melikian did not elaborate.
Mher Shahgeldian, Orinats Yerkir’s deputy chairman, laughed off the allegation. “This is an absurd statement,” he told RFE/RL. “What is Orinats Yerkir to do with their relations?”
Many local commentators are convinced that the leaders of the HHK and the BHK will agree on a mutually acceptable outcome of the May 12 parliamentary elections despite their somewhat frosty rapport. Some suggest that such an agreement has already been reached.
“I don’t see a confrontation between us,” noted Melikian. “What I see is a honest and open competition.”
Nazarian was also asked to comment on another brawl that reportedly took place at a private Yerevan college last week between two groups of young men led by sons of Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian and Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian. He insisted that none of the participants of the “dispute over a girl” is related to either influential official.
“Two guys were in love with the same girl,” said the Yerevan police chief. “A dispute broke out between them. The university management tried to separate them, but they threw chairs at each other and one accidentally hit the pro-rector.”