Police in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri officially launched criminal proceedings on Tuesday in connection with a violent clash between groups of men reportedly linked with the country’s two main governing parties.
A spokesman for the Gyumri police told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that Hovannes Mkrtchian, director of a local sports school reputedly linked with President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), was beaten up in his office by three other men on Friday. One of them, Artyom Karapetian, is known as a loyalist of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the HHK’s junior partner in the governing coalition.
Both Mkrtchian and Karapetian are currently on the run, according to the police.
Earlier news reports from Gyumri portrayed the violent incident as a street fight between two groups of young men led by Mkrtchian and Karapetian. They allegedly clashed over potential votes in a local constituency that is expected to see one of the tightest contests in Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections.
The single-mandate constituency is currently represented in the National Assembly by Martun Grigorian, a BHK member. Grigorian is running for reelection against Arman Sahakian, a Yerevan-based businessman backed by the presidential HHK.
An aide to Grigorian, Aghasi Abrahamian, claimed that police officers attempted to search the lawmaker’s Gyumri house on Saturday but turned back after being warned about his constitutionally guaranteed immunity from prosecution. Abrahamian linked that with Friday’s incident, saying that the authorities may thus be trying to “distract” Grigorian’s team from the intensifying election campaign and even intimidate it.
“I don’t exclude that,” Abrahamian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But a bully has to be up against a scared person, which is not true in our case.”
However, the chief of the national police, Vladimir Gasparian, categorically denied on Tuesday any political reasons for the Gyumri violence, saying that it resulted from a financial dispute. “It wasn’t a political incident,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“It’s just that some people happen to be from the HHK and the BHK,” said Gasparian. “I don’t care about that.”
Relations between the HHK and the BHK appear to have deteriorated in recent months because of BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian’s apparent reluctance to pledge support for Sarkisian’s reelection plans. The BHK also makes no secret of its desire to gain greater presence in government as a result of the May 6 elections.
HHK and BHK activists already clashed on a number of occasions in the run-up to Armenia’s last parliamentary elections held in 2007. But that did not prevent the two parties from cutting a power-sharing deal after the vote.