Law-enforcement authorities in Armenia launched a hunt for the son of Gyumri’s outgoing Mayor Vartan Ghukasian on Wednesday after confirming his reported involvement in an election-related brawl accompanied by gunfire.
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General said Spartak Ghukasian has been charged with hooliganism and illegal arms possession and will be arrested if tracked down by the Armenian police. Sona Truzian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that his whereabouts have not been known since the violent incident reported on Friday.
In a written statement, the police said Spartak Ghukasian led one of two groups of men that “beat up each other” and “fired gunshots” in the country’s second largest city. Police investigators found one bullet and two cartridge cases at the scene of the clash, the statement said.
It added that they also searched a local hotel, a restaurant, a children’s café as well as private homes “in order to find weapons used during the hooliganism.” All three businesses are owned by Vartan Ghukasian and his extended family.
Only one man has been arrested in connection with the incident so far. Truzian identified him as Harutiun Hambarian. The latter is known locally as one of the controversial mayor’s bodyguards.
Ghukasian on Tuesday denied his notoriously unruly son’s involvement in the violence. His spokeswoman, Lilit Aghekian, claimed that Spartak was not in Armenia on Friday.
News reports claimed the opposite, however. Spartak was said to have attacked activists working for Samvel Balasanian, a government-backed businessman tipped to become Gyumri’s next mayor in an election slated for September 7. The incident reportedly occurred shortly after Balasanian met voters in a local neighborhood.
The prosecutors and the police did not comment on the possible link between the incident and the upcoming election. But the police statement did say that Ghukasian’s son and his friends clashed with men led by Edgar Mkrtchian, a well-known Balasanian loyalist.
Ghukasian Jr. has a history of violent conduct which government critics have long blamed on what they see as an atmosphere of impunity created by his flamboyant father. He spent six months in prison in 2007 for provoking an election-related street gunfight in Gyumri.
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.