By Karine Kalantarian
A massive gunfight in Yerevan that left one person dead last month stemmed not from a business dispute between two criminal groups but a mere “manly” quarrel between two teenage men, the Armenian police claimed at the weekend.
Senior police officials said a criminal investigation into the February 4 shootout in the city’s southern outskirts has found that at issue was not control of local public transportation as has been widely suggested in the Armenian press. They were also at pains to play down the late-night incident, the most serious of its kind reported in a decade.
At least three men were seriously injured in the clash that reportedly involved more than a hundred participants. One of them died in hospital shortly afterward.
The police made dozens of arrests and confiscated large quantities of weapons amid a media outcry against what many Armenians believe is impunity enjoyed by quasi-criminal elements involved in business. Orinats Yerkir, one of the three parties represented in Armenia’s government, publicly accused the authorities of failing to properly investigate the shootout last week.
But according to the deputy chief of the national Police Service, General Ararat Mahtesian, the crime has already been solved, with 9 persons currently under arrest pending trial and only three others on the run. Mahtesian said five police officers have been sacked for their failure to prevent the shootings and one of them is suspected of involvement in the crime.
According to the official version of the events, the dispute began after a 15-year-old schoolboy was beaten by another young man and turned to crime figures in his neighborhood for help. The police say the assailant was then “punished” by the latter before rallying support in his own Yerevan district and setting the stage for the clash.
“The [criminal] ‘authorities’ in the two neighborhoods tried to sort out this issue on February 4 in a ‘manly’ fashion,” Mahtesian told reporters.
“It is clear to us that this had nothing to do with business,” said Colonel Nerses Nazarian, the chief of the Yerevan police. “Those who committed this crime had nobody behind their back.”
Reports in Several Armenian newspapers have said that the shootout was part of a dispute over minibus service in the city’s southern Erebuni district. The business is highly lucrative in Armenia and is usually controlled by government-connected individuals.
Two of the detained gunmen were symbolically fined by a Yerevan court last June for attacking journalists at an opposition rally in April 2004. They were part of a group of two dozen burly men that tried to disrupt the anti-government protest. Police stood by and watched as they smashed just about every video and still camera in sight.