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Two killed in inter-communal shootout in eastern Armenia

30 April 2020
Health Minister Arsen Torosyan visiting the wounded in Gavar Hospital. Photo via ArmenPress

Two people have died and four more have been injured in a shootout between residents of the town of Gavar and of the nearby village of Noratus in eastern Armenia.

The gunfight took place on a street in Gavar, the provincial capital of Gegharkunik Province, on 28 April. One of the victims was from Gavar and the other from Noratus.

Several participants of the shootout were joined by more residents of Noratus and Gavar who stormed the Gavar Hospital later that day. According to the authorities, they wished to find the wounded inside and take revenge on them.

Details about how and why the incident occurred are not yet clear, with many speculating in the media and online. Police issued a statement 24 hours after the incident giving a general explanation of what happened.

Several news sites have alleged the fight broke out between minors from Gavar and Noratus over the assassination of Hayk Hakobyan, a resident of Noratus,  several years ago. 

Hakobyan was the son of Andranik Hakobyan, a former Deputy Governor of Gegharkunik Province. Tert.am claim Hakobyan is related to Noratusti Alik and Ara Banduryan, who they said were ‘well-known criminals’.

According to news outlet Joghovurd, the fathers of the minors got involved in the fight which resulted in the shootout. 

Joghovurd also claimed that the Head of Police Arman Sargsyan was present at the hospital when it was stormed, which was later refuted by the police 18 hours after the incident; they claimed that Sargsyan was at the site of the shootout at the time.

According to Tert.am, the hospital storming was organised by the brother of one of the victims, known as Noratustsi Arj (bear of Noratus). They reported that a mob armed with iron rods and other objects stormed the hospital and found two of the wounded and slit their throats. 

This was also refuted by the police. 

According to the Investigative Committee of Armenia, when the relatives and friends of the victims found out about their deaths, they believed that those responsible were taken to Gavar Hospital which is why they stormed the building. 

As a result, one of the wounded suffered additional injuries including stabbing and went into severe hemorrhagic shock. Two more people were wounded during the incident in the hospital. The mob later fled the scene. 

All six wounded were taken to Yerevan for further treatment.

According to Health Minister Arsen Torosyan, no medical staff was wounded. However, several of the hospital’s walls, doors, windows, and bathrooms were damaged and would soon be repaired, he said. 

‘The situation is now stable’

The Governor of Gegharkunik, Gnel Sanosyan, told journalists that near 500 people had stormed the hospital which was why the police, who were outnumbered, were not able to hold them back. 

Sanosyan later told Azatutyun that he was not present at the hospital and eyewitnesses informed him about the numbers. He also said that the police responded immediately after the attack, and additional units were brought in from Yerevan. 

‘The situation is now stable,’ said Sanosyan. ‘The police have the situation under control in the city, at the hospital, and of course in the village of Noratus.’

All entry points to Gavar are now under police supervision. 

An investigation has been launched on charges of murder, possession of illegal arms, and destruction of property. Fifteen people have so far been arrested.

The Office of Armenia’s Human Right Defender has sent a response team to Gavar and Noratus which has met with those detained and will later meet with their families.

In an interview with CivilNet, Armen Grigoryan, Secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council, said that the ‘tragic incident’ showed the importance of implementing reforms in the country’s police. 

A reform package was approved in January 2020 to create a Ministry of Internal Affairs which will oversee the police force.

Grigoryan noted that reforms were needed not only within the police but the mindset of the people toward the police needed to change as well.