By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Two wealthy businessman close to the Armenian government on Friday flatly denied reports about a mass brawl between their bodyguards in a café in downtown in Yerevan.
Newspaper reports said two groups of well-built men, some of them brandishing guns, quarreled and came to blows as they spent time there on Wednesday. According to the daily “Aravot,” they were bodyguards of tycoon Gagik Tsarukian and Ashot Aghababian, a businessman and senior member of the governing Republican Party (HHK). The paper claimed that the chief of President Robert Kocharian’s security service personally intervened to stop the fight.
Close associates of both government-connected individuals were quick to refute the information.
“I don’t know what happened at that café -- it’s law-enforcers who must deal with that -- but Gagik Tsarukian certainly had nothing to do with the clash,” said Naira Zohrabian, a senior member of Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in the HHK-led governing coalition.
Zohrabian ruled out the possibility that Tsarukian’s bodyguards, notorious for their intimidating and occasionally violent behavior, may have acted without his knowledge. “I assure you that Mr. Tsarukian knows what his bodyguards and other staff are up to,” she told RFE/RL.
Galust Sahakian, a prominent HHK figure who is Aghababian’s brother-in-law, dismissed the reports as “provocative rumors.” He argued that Aghababian, who owns one of Yerevan’s largest clothing markets, has not been in Armenia for the past ten days.
According to the Armenian police, a violent dispute took place outside the café and involved only several teenagers. Sayad Shirinian, a police spokesman, said Tsarukian’s and Aghababian’s men had no part in the incident.
However, the “Aravot” editor Aram Abrahamian insisted on the credibility of his newspaper’s report, suggesting that the police and the two government-connected businessmen agreed to hush up the incident. “I think the information is correct,” he said. “It’s natural that the oligarchs do not want to see such reports about them and managed to reach agreement with police circles.”
Staff at the café in question, called Triumph, refused to talk about the incident when approached by RFE/RL. But a young man, who works nearby, said he saw angry men quarrelling with each other as he walked past the place on Wednesday.
“They didn’t look like bodyguards, but there were quite a few expensive cars parked around them,” said Karen Khachatrian. “They were definitely not teenagers,” he added.
Triumph is reportedly popular with government officials, businessmen and other wealthy individuals and their family members. It was the scene of an infamous 2004 shootout between two groups of young men, including a son of then Culture Minister Ara Aramian. Aramian was forced to step down shortly after the incident.