By Satenik Vantsian in Gyumri
At least two people were wounded in a weekend gunfight in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri that allegedly involved a son of its controversial Mayor Vartan Ghukasian.
Law-enforcement authorities promptly launched a criminal investigation into the shootout that broke out on a street intersection in the city center on Sunday evening. Prosecutors said two groups of “unknown individuals” exchanged fire in still uncertain circumstances. “All necessary measures are being taken to clarify circumstances of the incident and identify individuals who committed the crime,” the spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General’s Office, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL on Monday.
According to unconfirmed reports, they were led by Ghukasian’s son Spartak and Rustam Sargsian, the son of a local businessman and a local leader of the pro-presidential Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).
Later on Sunday, police found an expensive SUV which is known to have been used by Spartak Ghukasian and was apparently involved in the high-profile incident. The black Hummer was riddled with bullet holes.
Truzian said the car is formally owned by a certain Artyom Ghukasian but would not specify whether the man is related to the mayor. She also said that an innocent passerby as well as a 28-year-old man were wounded in the shootout.
The man, identified as Norayr Aloyan, underwent surgery in a local hospital and remained in intensive care there on Monday. Members of the Ghukasian clan could be seen waiting outside the hospital on Sunday night, suggesting that he might be connected to them.
There were rumors that Sargsian was also injured in the gunfight. However, the hospital administration insisted that he was not treated there.
The two families have business interests in Gyumri but have no history of commercial disputes. Spartak Ghukasian, whose father heads the regional branch of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), is said to have quarreled with Sargsian in a Gyumri restaurant earlier this week, allegedly blasting the latter for his family’s ties with the rival BHK.
Ghukasian is no stranger to controversy, having been repeatedly implicated in violent incidents periodically reported from Gyumri. A newspaper last year accused him of bullying and beating a well-known critic of his equally controversial father. The latter has earned notoriety for his flamboyant behavior that has occasionally turned violent.
Less than two months ago Mayor Ghukasian survived an apparent attempt on his life when unknown gunmen opened fire on his motorcade, killing three of his bodyguards. Ghukasian is still recovering from a serious wound sustained in the attack. Nobody has been arrested in connection with the brazen shooting so far.
The latest incident only added to a widespread sense of insecurity among residents of Gyumri. One middle-aged woman was at the scene of the gunfight when it broke out but was too scared to divulge any details to RFE/RL. “I have a son and don’t want to get him in trouble,” she explained.
“Law is not enforced here,” said another, male resident. “I’m now scared of going out.”
“If they earned a living like ordinary people do, there would never be such shootings. They’ve got everything and, unlike us, have time to shoot each other,” he added with sarcasm.