Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Eurasia Net
By Marianna Grigoryan

The drive-by shooting of a senior member of Armenia’s ruling Republican Party is heightening concern about Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections. Many observers fear that the incident is somehow linked with the May 12 vote. Government investigators are still scrambling to identify a possible motive for the attack, however.

Vardan Ghukasian, mayor of Armenia’s second largest city, Gyumri, and his staff came under gunfire late in the evening of April 2 while returning to Gyumri from a meeting of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia in Yerevan. At the gathering, party leaders made acting chairman and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian their choice to become prime minister, replacing Andranik Markarian, who died from a heart attack on March 25. [For details, see the Eurasia Insight archive].

A car with unidentified license plates sprayed Ghukasian’s Mercedes-Benz automobile and another car accompanying the mayor with automatic gunfire near the town of Ashtarak on the northward-bound Yerevan-Gyumri highway. Three security guards died on the spot; Ghukasian, Deputy Mayor Gagik Manukian and the mayor’s driver were badly wounded. The driver subsequently died from his wounds. Ghukasian and Manukian were reportedly in serious, but stable condition.

A criminal investigation is underway, according to the General Prosecutor’s Office. No arrests have yet been made. While investigators have not publicly speculated on motives, the shooting is already been classified as an assassination attempt against Ghukasian. The 46-year-old mayor acts as head of Republican Party operations for the district of Shirak in northern Armenia, one of the party’s largest chapters. Ghukasian, known for an occasionally flamboyant temper, is also widely reputed to hold a tight rein over business activities in Gyumri, a town of about 150,900 in northern Armenia that is also home to a Russian military base.

One opposition leader argues that the shooting is a sign of trouble to come in connection with Armenia’s upcoming May 12 parliamentary vote. "During a press conference this year, I said that blood would be shed in Armenia during the elections, and this is only the beginning," commented Democratic Way Party Chairman Manuk Gasparian. Like other observers critical of the government, however, he notes that it "is not ruled out" that Ghukasian’s alleged business interests played a role.

"But it is obvious that this incident will weaken the Republican Party," Gasparian continued. "Ghukasian will become more cautious and perhaps will refrain from using ‘strong-arm tactics’ during the upcoming elections."

In Gyumri, city hall officials said they were baffled by the attack. "The mayor has no enemies," Artyom Mazmanian, head of the Gyumri city administration, commented to EurasiaNet. "We cannot say anything, we ourselves were taken by surprise," Mazmanian added. "He has never received threats, or been harassed by anyone."

Another widely disseminated theory contends that Ghukasian was planning to drop his Republican Party membership and join the increasingly powerful rival Prosperous Armenia Party. [For details, see the Eurasia Insight archive].

The Republican Party, however, has flatly denied Ghukasian was mulling such a switch. "It is ruled out. This talk is the result of fantasizing," Republican Party spokesperson Eduard Sharmazanov said during an April 3 press conference in Yerevan.

In a statement released April 3, the Republican Party demanded that "law enforcement bodies solve the crime quickly and strictly punish those responsible." The statement concluded, however, with an observation that only underlines the worries about possible political motives for the attack. "Any encroachment against the stability of public life is doomed to failure," the statement said.

Editor’s Note: Marianna Grigoryan is a reporter for the weekly in Yerevan.

Posted April 3, 2007 © Eurasianet

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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