Five more men were detained in Gyumri on Thursday night just hours after the chief of the Armenian police, Vladimir Gasparian, announced a tough crackdown on two local clans locked in a bloody feud.
“We have two -- I’m not afraid of using this word -- clans, which have for many years been trying to impose their will with bloodshed, violence and lawlessness,” Gasparian told a news conference. “It’s not going to continue. That era is over.”
“Either these two clans will come to their senses and live in harmony with the society or they will not live in the society and will find themselves where they ought to be,” he warned.
Gasparian spoke to journalists after chairing an emergency meeting at the police department of Armenia’s second largest city that discussed the ongoing criminal investigation into this week’s shooting of two men linked to the most bitter rival of Vartan Ghukasian, Gyumri’s controversial former mayor.
One of the men, Artyom Karapetian, died while the other, Harutyun Khachatrian, was seriously wounded in the attack which the police say was carried out by one of Ghukasian’s nephews, Vahe. Both victims have close ties to Martun Grigorian, a parliament deputy whose extended family has for years been at loggerheads with the ex-mayor’s clan.
Vahe Ghukasian, who is now under arrest, was also injured in the incident in still unclear circumstances. The police say that he has confessed to the shootings.
A senior prosecutor in Gyumri, Karen Shahbazian, said earlier on Thursday that Khachatrian’s son Gevorg has surrendered to the police, handing in an automatic rifle. The teenage man was promptly taken into custody on suspicion of illegal arms possession.
Five other men, among them two other Ghukasian nephews, riding in the same car were detained shortly before midnight. The police said they found a small amount of marijuana in the car and are now investigating its origin.
The arrests followed Gasparian’s pledge to keep active members of the two rival groups “under permanent control.” “I know that there are drug users among them,” the national police chief said. “They will be rounded up and tested. We don’t have to confiscate drugs from them. We will be working actively.”
Gasparian also complained that local parliamentarians and other officials have contacted one of his deputies, asking the police to be lenient towards the individuals questioned in connection with the shootings. “Are they mobsters or officials? They should make a choice before appealing to us,” he said.
In a related development, two dozen vehicles belonging to the two rival groups have been impounded by the police in recent days, according to law-enforcement authorities. Police presence on Gyumri roads has likewise been beefed up.
Vartan Ghukasian served as Gyumri mayor for almost 13 years, enjoying the backing of President Serzh Sarkisian and his predecessor Robert Kocharian. His long rule was marred by frequent reports of violent incidents involving himself, his son and other relatives. Ghukasian, who is affiliated with Sarkisian’s Republican Party, resigned last summer after losing the central government support.