By Karine Kalantarian
A gunfight broke out in Yerevan in broad daylight on Thursday, in what police believe was an attempt on the life of a reputed crime figure.
Witnesses said unknown gunmen opened fired and threw a hand grenade at businessman Aram Vartanian, better known as Vstrechi Aper, as he stood outside a café in the city’s southern Erebuni district with several friends. They were said to have shot back at the attackers and escaped unscathed.
Law-enforcement officers at the scene said the shooting left a teenage boy injured by shattered glass.
The Armenian police immediately began a nationwide manhunt for the gunmen, with uniformed and plainclothes officers armed with assault rifles randomly stopping cars leaving and entering the city. No arrests were announced as of late evening.
The chief of Yerevan’s police department, Nerses Nazarian, told RFE/RL that he believes the attack was aimed at killing Vartanian, who was questioned by investigators immediately after the incident. Nazarian could not say whether the shooting might have been connected with the ongoing campaigning for next month’s parliamentary elections.
Some Erebuni residents said Vartanian, who allegedly has underworld connections, has a tense relationship with Mher Sedrakian, the district’s controversial mayor who himself had survived an assassination bid in July 2003. A senior member of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Sedrakian was reportedly involved in last month’s violent dispute between local leaders of the HHK and another establishment party, Prosperous Armenia.
The Erebuni gunfight came just two weeks after gunmen wounded the mayor of the country’s second largest city of Gyumri, also affiliated with the HHK, and killed three of his bodyguards in a drive-by shooting 30 kilometers west of the Armenian capital. Nobody has been arrested in connection with that attack.