Several dozen people were detained in Yerevan over the weekend after two groups of armed men clashed in an apparent business dispute.
The extraordinary incident occurred in the city’s northern Nor-Nork district on Saturday evening. Although it quickly turned violent, there were no reports of multiple gunshots or major injuries suffered by its participants.
Scores of police were quick to arrive at the scene and prevent a further escalation of the dispute. According to the Armenian police, 55 men were detained on the sport and 36 of them were subsequently placed under arrest. None of them was formally charged as of Monday.
“Circumstances of the incident are being clarified,” the chief police spokesman, Sayad Shirinian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The investigation is continuing.”
Shirinian said the investigation is being conducted under articles of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with “hooliganism” and illegal arms possession. The police found and confiscated 12 pistols, he said.
Shirinian added that the “mass disturbances” were sparked by unspecified “financial issues.” Armenian media reports spoke of two rival gangs clashing over a plot of land belonging to a well-known Nor-Nork resident reputed to be a crime figure. According to some reports, some gang members wore lapel pins indicating their membership in the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in the governing coalition.
Shirinian insisted, however, that none of the detained men is affiliated with any political party or non-governmental organization. “Those who committed hooligan acts are mainly former convicts and drug addicts,” said the police spokesman.
A senior BHK representative, Naira Zohrabian, likewise assured RFE/RL that no member of the party led by Gagik Tsarukian, one of Armenia’s wealthiest and most influential businessmen, was involved in the violent standoff.
BHK activists bitterly clashed with fellow government loyalists from President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) on several occasions in the run-up to last May’s municipal elections in Yerevan.
The HHK on Monday also denied any involvement in what a party spokesman called a “hooligan crime.”