A government loyalist and former police officer fired gunshots in a village near Yerevan on Sunday during a violent dispute with other local residents which followed an election campaign rally held there by an opposition alliance.
The ORO alliance claimed that Lernik Yeranosian threatened to shoot one of its supporters in the village of Jrarat but was overpowered and disarmed by several other men. It said that Yeranosian acted on orders from the village’s pro-government mayor related to him and his brother Levon, a controversial deputy chief of the Armenian police.
The police detained and questioned several local ORO supporters after the incident. They all were released a few hours later.
Another law-enforcement body, the Investigative Committee, said that Lernik Yeranosian admitted firing gunshots in the air but claimed to have been beaten up by the other men. Nobody was formally charged in connection with the incident as of Monday evening.
“The reason for the incident was to swear at people and prevent them from attending our rally,” one of ORO’s leaders, former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday. “What do people in Armenia do to those who swear [in public?] They punish them.”
“They tried to use weapons after the fight,” Ohanian said. “But with their skillful actions my teammates wrested that weapon and handed it to law-enforcement bodies.”
Ohanian also criticized the police for detaining only his backers.
Samvel Galstian, the Jrarat mayor affiliated with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, was not available for comment. Villagers interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian service declined to give any details of the violence. They also claimed that they did not hear gunfire.
Lernik Yeranosian, who had the rank of police colonel, was among several officers who were fired from the police for using excessive force against participants of an opposition demonstrations held in July 2016 in support of gunmen occupying a police base in Yerevan.
Riot police fired stun grenades and tear gas at the time to disperse the crowd that marched to a Yerevan neighborhood adjacent to the besieged base. More than 60 people were injured and hospitalized as a result.
Levon Yeranosian, a police general notorious for violent conduct, was among high-ranking police officers that ordered the crackdown condemned by human rights groups. President Serzh Sarkisian awarded a Medal for the Excellent Maintenance of Public Order to Yeranosian in December.