By Satenik Vantsian in Gyumri
Prosecutors announced on Friday a nationwide hunt for a son of Gyumri Mayor Vartan Ghukasian after identifying him as a key participant of the weekend shootout in Armenia’s second largest city that left at least one person wounded.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General officially confirmed reports that the gunfight involved two groups of young men led by Spartak Ghukasian and Rustam Sargsian, son of a prominent local businessman. It said police have been instructed to take “all necessary measures” to find and arrest both men already charged under relevant articles of the Armenian Criminal Code.
“Nobody has been arrested in connection with this case so far,” the spokeswoman for the law-enforcement agency, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL, denying rumors about dozens of arrests circulating in Gyumri. But she said the investigators have already found two expensive cars, two assault rifles, and two pistols used in the shootout.
The investigators also questioned on Thursday Mayor Ghukasian in connection with the incident. In a televised interview broadcast earlier this week, he vehemently denied his son’s involvement. He also accused the media and his rivals of discrediting his family which was widely linked with other instances of violence reported in Gyumri in recent years.
The flamboyant mayor, who is a senior member of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), was seriously wounded in a mysterious drive-by shooting that killed three of his bodyguards about two months ago. Ghukasian has linked the apparent assassination attempt to his membership in the HHK.
There were suggestions that the latest shootout may have also been politically motivated as the fugitive Sargsian’s father is a local leader of the pro-presidential Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), one of the HHK’s main rivals in the May 12 parliamentary elections. But according to the prosecutors, the shootout was sparked by a violent dispute between Sargsian and a friend of Spartak Ghukasian’s that broke out in a Gyumri restaurant earlier on Sunday. Truzian said the man, Norayr Soloyan, picked a fight with Sargsian before being shot and wounded in the leg.
Soloyan was taken to a Gyumri hospital and is being treated there under police guard. A statement by the prosecutors said he will be arrested and prosecuted after recovering from the wound.
Truzian insisted that only one person, an elderly woman, suffered a minor injury in the shootout itself when a stray bullet hit her in the arm. She also said the investigators see no link between the incident and the disappearance of a 12-year-boy in Gyumri on Sunday. The boy, identified as Robert Simonian, reportedly went missing at around the same time.
(Photolur photo: Vartan Ghukasian.)