Armenian law-enforcement bodies made at least 15 arrests on Wednesday after an angry mob stormed a provincial hospital guarded by police and tried to kill its patients hospitalized as a result of a shootout that left two people dead and several others wounded.
They also beefed up security in Gavar, the administrative center of Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik province and the scene of the gun battle that broke out on Tuesday evening for still unclear reasons.
The deadly clash reportedly involved two groups of armed men living in Gavar and the nearby village of Noratus. Two of them were shot dead while six others seriously wounded and rushed to a Gavar hospital.
Three hours later, the hospital was attacked by several hundred friends and relatives of the two murdered men, local officials said. The attackers, most of them reported to be Noratus residents, broke through a police cordon and burst into the building, smashing its doors, windows and even an inner wall.
According to Armenia’s Investigative Committee, they stabbed two of the wounded individuals and another man who they believed were responsible for the killings.
A senior hospital doctor, Aram Avetisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the attackers linked to “one of the rival sides” left the medical facility after finding “the persons they were looking for.” The latter suffered severe stab wounds and were taken to Yerevan in a critical condition, said Avetisian.
In a statement, the Investigative Committee said that 15 persons were arrested on suspicion of participating in the “mass disturbances.” It said law-enforcement authorities are now trying to identify more participants of the violent incidents in Gavar.
The Gegharkunik governor, Gnel Sanosian, spoke of “quite a large number” arrests already made by investigators but gave no numbers. “The process is continuing,” he said, noting that the attack was caught on the local hospital’s security cameras.
Sanosian said that the Armenian police have sent reinforcements to Gavar and Noratus to prevent fresh violence there. “The police fully control the situation in the town, around the hospital and, of course, in Noratus,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Critics of the Armenian government pounced on the fact that the hospital was seized by the mob despite being guarded by armed police officers and the arrival in Gavar of the national police chief, Arman Sargsian. They portrayed this as a gross security failure highlighting Armenia’s rising crime rate. Some of them also demanded Sargsian’s resignation.
Sanosian dismissed the criticism, saying that the policemen deployed in the hospital were greatly outnumbered by the attackers. The provincial governor estimated the number of the attackers at around 500.
“There were several hundred of them,” Avetisian, the hospital doctor, said for his part.