- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 August 8, 2003 

Guns and Greed: Series of shootings point to turf battle with possible political connections

Clans and Guns in public clashes.

A series of high-profile shootings and assassination attempts, believed to be connected to the May 25 Parliament elections, are at the center of press and public curiosity in Yerevan.

The first shot was heard at one in the morning, June 6. Six more shot followed into the body of Mushegh Azatyan, killing the Mafioso businessman near the Aviatrans Hotel on Abovian Street.

Azatyan, 45, was one of the former owners of Oshakan Wine Factory and was a known associate of Viacheslav Ivankov (known regionally as "Yaponchik"), an alleged Russian Mafioso currently in prison in the United States.

According to Russian media, Azatyan's gang is considered one of the most notorious in St. Petersburg and consists primarily of members from Armenia and Dagestan. Their repute stems from drug dealing and they are known for being heavily armed.

According to a report in Ayb-Fe daily newpaper, just before his murder, Azatyan had been in a meeting with the brother of Minister of Defense Serzh Sargsyan. Sargsyan's brother, the newspaper reported, gave Azatyan a ride to the Aviatrans. Azatyan's bodyguards were nearby at the time of the shooting. No suspects have been indentified.

On the day after Azatyan's murder Artur Mkrtchyan was shot to death at the corner of Pushkin and Koghbatsi streets. It is unclear whether there was any connection to the other murders, but according to Azg newspaper, he was the son of a judge.

Not quite three weeks later, on June 25, two well-connected figures and their taxi driver were shot to death in their car by Russian-made automatic weapons near the Nubarashen Avan garbage dump.

The dead included: Arkadi Gevorgyan, a nephew of former Parliament Deputy Ruben Gevorgyan and Garik Harutyunyan, deputy head of the health department of the Ministry of Defense. Both men were in their late 20s to early 30s. Arkadi Gevorgyan's brother was seriously wounded in the shooting.

The June 25 shootings are believed to be the continuation of a year-long clash of clans involving businessmen "Tsaghik Rubo" and "Lfik Samo".

During Soviet times Ruben Gevorgyan (Tsaghik Rubo) was convicted of murder. During the Karabakh War, he headed the Sasna Tsrer brigade. His brother, Samvel was killed in battle, leaving Gevorgyan to care for his brother's sons.

In 2000, the dominating Hanrapetakan (Republican) Party split. Some headed by Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan remained pro-government and others became opposition. Ruben Gevorgyan, who because of his criminal conviction was not allowed to participate in the 1995 parliamentary elections, was elected in 1998. Gevorgyan joined the oppositional side of the split party.

On July 13 of 2000 his nephew Artiom Gevorgyan (the sole survivor of this summer's shooting) and an associate committed an armed robbery of a carpet store on Komitas Street. In exchange for his nephew release from prosecution, Ruben Gevorgyan renounced his support of the oppositional Parliament parties.

In the recent election he lost re-election, but retained his authority over the Davitashen district of Yerevan.

Samvel Alexanyan (Lfik Samo), one of the wealthiest men in Armenia, is the main importer of sugar, grain production and medicines to Armenia. He also owns restaurants and supermarkets. On May 25 he was elected and became a deputy of the National Assembly. He was actively supporting Robert Kocharyan during two presidential elections.

A long-standing clash between Alexanyan and Ruben Gevorgyan heated up last year when Alexanyan attempted to acquire new land in Davitashen, but was refused, allegedly on orders from Gevorgyan to the head of the district (one of Gevorgyan's men), Surik Ghukasyan.

Two hours after the Nurbarashen killings, Alexanyan's brother-in-law Victor Manukyan and some friends were fired upon. Manukyan escaped harm by lying under his Niva. Two of Ruben Gevorgyan's intimates were arrested on murder charges.

Since their conflict began, at least five murders have resulted from the fighting. No arrests have been made. Two associates of Alexanyan are wanted in the Nubarashen slayings, plus one suspect who previously was connected with Gevorkyan but later became part of Alexanyan's clan.

A third public killing that took place on July 2 has no mafia connection but was nonetheless salacious.

On the morning of that day, the dean of the Department of Russian Language and Literature of Yerevan State University 43 year old Karen Mkrtchyan walked his child to kindergarten. On his walk back home, he was shot in the head from a passenger in a passing Niva. He died on the spot.

Speculation of why Mkrtchyan was killed include belief that he refused to accept a bribe to give a student high marks for graduation. No one was arrested.

Nine days later, July 11, in the center of Gyumri shootings took place between associates of competing transport routes who were said to be vying for ownership of routes, particularly the Gyumri-Yerevan route.

According to official statements, Trans Akntart director Serob Grigoryan and his competitor Jirair Harutyunyan (a relative of the leader of the Gyumri chapter of Orinats Yerkir political party) were arguing in a café on Victory Avenue. The two decided to discuss their difference in the seat of a Mercedes Benz owned by one of Harutyunyan's relatives.

In the car, Harutyunyan took out his handgun and fired two shots into the head of Grigoryan. He then got out of the car and opened fire on Grigoryan's men, wounding Gor Stepanyan. One of Grigoryan's men returned fire, wounding Harutyunyan. Wounded and bleeding, Stepanyan walked to where Harutyunyan was lying on the ground and put a bullet in his head.

The bloody shoot out that left two dead and one wounded took place 50 meters from the Gyumri Prosecutor's Office. Two suspects were arrested.

Transport routes have always been a profitable business, with most owners enjoying "shelter" from prominent and/or powerful authorities. They have been the source of conflict, but residents of Armenia can't recall any such public shootout as the one in Gyumri, for any reason.

Eleven days later, July 22: At about 10 a.m. Hanrapetakan party member and head of the Erebuni community, Mher Sedrakyan (Mher of Tokhmakh), was driven in his Mercededs to a gas station he owns. As soon as his driver got out of the car, the Mercedes exploded (from a remote-control bomb), shattering the petrol station windows. Sedrakyan was severely injured and taken to hospital. His injuries are no longer life-threatening.

"Ayb-Fe" links the main motive of Sedrakyan's murder attempt to competition for control of the interior construction materials business. Sedrakyan and his brother own one factory and another competing factory is owned by a member of the Hayrapetyan clan, businessman Misha Kalantaryan.

Last June, Kalantaryan confessed to murdering businessman Hovhannes Manukyan in front of several witnesses while Manukyan attended services marking the seventh day of a friend's death.

Last December, a judge found Kalantaryan guilty of murder, but dismissed sentence, saying he was mentally unstable. The accused did not attend the proceedings.

(During the 80s Kalantaryan served a sentence for murder.)

While at least three of the recent shootings are connected to efforts at controlling profitable enterprises, the press secretary of the Chief Prosecutor's Office, Gurgen Ambaryan says their timing is coincidental.

"These murders have no connection with each other," Ambaryan says. "And only after investigation can we say what the similarities are."

Officials say that the number of murders has not significantly increased (39 in the first six months of last year; 41 this year). But with the recent series of shootings, some are speculating that changes in political influence in Parliament is creating instability among the powerful and criminally inclined.

"For winning at the elections authorities became allied to the criminal world and became dependant on them," says political analyst Yervand Bozoyan. "If several people were promised one field, of course, several people cannot have control over one field. So, they make public clashes without having any fear of authorities."


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