One man was arrested in Gyumri on Tuesday in a criminal investigation into a shootout allegedly provoked by the notoriously unruly son of Vartan Ghukasian, the outgoing mayor of Armenia’s second largest city.
News reports said that a group of men led by Spartak Ghukasian attacked on Friday activists working for Samvel Balasanian, a government-backed businessman tipped to become Gyumri’s next mayor in an election slated for September 7. The violent incident reportedly involving gunfire took place shortly after Balasanian met voters in a local neighborhood.
Police and state prosecutors confirmed the shootout but declined to specify who was involved in it and whether it had any connection the upcoming election. A statement issued by the regional prosecutor’s office said only that a criminal case has bee opened under articles of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with hooliganism and illegal arms possession.
A police investigator told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that one man has been arrested in connection with the incident but refused to identify him.
The Balasanian campaign and local residents were also reluctant to comment. “It’s a lie, nothing like that happened in our neighborhood,” one man told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Meanwhile, the city was rife with rumors that Spartak Ghukasian left Armenia the day after the incident. A source close to his family confirmed them.
Some Armenian media outlets reported last month that Ghukasian Jr. shouted abuse and threats outside Balasanian’s house after it was announced that the businessman affiliated with the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) will run for mayor. Vartan Ghukasian denied the allegations through a spokeswoman.
Ghukasian’s son has a history of reportedly violent conduct that has only reinforced his father’s controversial reputation. In 2007, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for provoking an apparently election-related street gunfight between two groups of young men in Gyumri. Spartak Ghukasian was granted parole after serving one third of the sentence.
The Gyumri mayor, in office since 1999, announced earlier this month that he will not again run for reelection. The announcement came shortly after the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, of which Ghukasian is a senior member, decided to back Balasanian’s candidacy.