Vartan Ghukasian, the controversial former mayor of Gyumri, said on Monday that he will join an alliance formed by businessman Gagik Tsarukian to participate in Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections.
Tsarukian announced his return to politics last week nearly two years after resigning as leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) under strong government pressure. He said he will run for parliament at the head of a new electoral bloc that will comprise the BHK and other groups.
The party founded by Tsarukian claims to be in opposition to President Serzh Sarkisian. The tycoon has avoided publicly criticizing the government in recent months, however.
“I have decided to run on the Tsarukian bloc ticket,” Ghukasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I feel that I can do a lot for my homeland, my city and my people … more than many others can.”
The once powerful ex-mayor made clear that he has had no links with Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) ever since he stepped down in October 2012 after losing the HHK’s backing. “I have had no connection to the Republican Party for the past five years,” he said.
The ruling party threw its weight behind Samvel Balasanian, a local businessman who was elected Gyumri mayor later in 2012. Incidentally, Balasanian was affiliated with Tsarukian’s BHK at the time. He teamed up with the HHK to controversially win a second term in an October 2016 municipal election.
Ghukasian governed Armenia’s second largest city for almost 13 years. His tenure was marred by scandals and controversies. Critics, including independent media outlets, accused him of leading a clan that controlled much of the local economy and tolerated no competition.
Ghukasian was also embarrassed by his notoriously unruly elder son Spartak. The latter was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2007 for provoking a street gunfight between two groups of young men in Gyumri. He was granted parole six months later.
In April 2013, Vartan Ghukasian, Spartak and two dozen other men were rounded up by the Gyumri police following the killing of a man connected to the ex-mayor’s most bitter local rival. Ghukasian was set free after spending several hours in police custody. One of his nephews was arrested and charged with murder.
The Armenian police subsequently claimed to have confiscated large quantities of weapons from both clans. The police chief, Vladimir Gasparian, vowed to put an end to their dominance of local affairs.
Ghukasian faced fresh accusations of violent conduct later in 2013.He and several of his loyalists allegedly beat up the father of another Gyumri resident accused of murdering his daughter’s fiancé. The ex-mayor denied the allegations.
In 2007, Ghukasian narrowly survived an apparent assassination attempt when unknown gunmen opened fire on his motorcade outside Yerevan, seriously wounding him and killing three of his bodyguards.