By Ruzanna Stepanian
Police said on Friday that they have identified three of the participants of a Thursday gunfight in Yerevan but shed little light on the incident which has heightened fears of election-related violence in Armenia.
Aram Vartanian, a reputed crime figure, reportedly came under fire as he stood outside a café in the city’s southern Erebuni district early in the afternoon. Witnesses said they heard automatic gunfire and an explosion. No casualties were reported.
A spokesman for Armenia’s Police Service, Armen Malkhasian, told RFE/RL that three young men who claim to have been involved in the shootout turned themselves in after “explanatory work” conducted by police investigators. He said one of them, identified as Arsen G., surrendered an assault rifle.
Malkhasian would not say whether the men claim to have shot at Vartanian or defended him. Nor could he explain why they were not detained or formally charged by the police.
The gunfight was followed by rumors that Vartanian, better known as Vstrechi Aper, supports the pro-presidential Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and has a tense relationship with Erebuni Mayor Mher Sedrakian, who leads the local chapter of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Sedrakian was reportedly involved in last month’s violent dispute between local activists of the two top contenders of the May 12 parliamentary elections.
However, a BHK spokesman denied Vartanian has close ties with the party. “To my knowledge, none of the individuals involved in the incident has any connection with the Prosperous Armenia Party,” Baghdasar Mherian told RFE/RL.
In a separate development, Armenian prosecutors confirmed on Friday reports that they found on April 9 a burned car which they said was used in an unspecified “particularly severe crime” committed recently. The Office of the Prosecutor-General released the sketch of a certain Artur who it said bought the car in late February, asking those who can recognize him to immediately contact law-enforcement authorities.
Newspaper reports last week said the prosecutors believe the black Audi-100 carried the gunmen that wounded Gyumri Mayor Vartan Ghukasian and killed three of his bodyguards on April 2. The brazen shooting was likewise linked by some media to the ongoing election campaign.
(Photo by the Prosecutor-General's Office: The car which Armenian prosecutors say was deliberately destroyed by fire.)