Murder, arson and criminal infighting – what’s happening in southern Georgia?
The authorities have lost control over the Samtskhe-Javakheti region and the local criminal communities, the opposition says about the extraordinary events in the city of Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia, where the population is predominantly Armenian.
Many locals say the situation has become so dangerous so as to no longer feel safe.
On August 8, several buildings were smashed and burned after a 27-year-old local resident was shot dead in the city center.
Some calm has been restored in the city and the region. The police are monitoring all entry into and exit from the city.
However, local residents say that showdowns between criminal gangs have become a daily occurrence, and many here have firearms.
The opposition believes that selective justice and lack of appropriate punishment have led to an increase in crime, and many local residents agree.
On the evening of August 8, at about 19:00, 27-year-old Vartan Miranyan, a resident of the village of Kulikam, was shot dead in the center of Akhalkalaki by men openly bearing firearms.
Before that, there was a massive fight between two groups of young people using batons and guns in the city center, in a popular park at a time when there were many people, including children, present.
About 10-12 people took part in the conflict. Then a Mercedes drove up, stopped right in the middle of the crowd, and shots rang out.
Several people rushed at the gunman. It turned out to be 37-year-old Artur Gabrielyan, who has already been detained on charges of premeditated murder.
But despite how long the fight lasted and the gunfire, the police never arrived at the scene.
Local journalists reacted much more quickly. The young man’s murder was captured on camera by a journalist from the Javakheti Information Center, an online news publication that arrived on the scene immediately after the scuffle began.
The ambulance was also late to arrive. Miranyan, who had been shot in the chest, was eventually taken to the hospital in a private car.
The gunfire continued, even in the courtyard of the hospital. Gabrielyan and his friends fired at the car carrying the wounded man, and the car was overturned right there at the hospital gates.
The police first appeared in the courtyard of the hospital and tried to intervene in the events that had begun that morning.
The conflict that led to the young man’s murder began in the morning. There had been at least two noisy conflicts in Akhalkalaki on that day, but the police did not deem it necessary to intervene.
In the first, residents of the village of Kulikam took part in the fights, including the murdered Vardan Miranyan. In the second, residents of Akhalkalaki participated, namely the owner of the ArtSeg Hotel Artur Gabrielyan and his friends.
The reason behind the conflict is not completely clear. One story is that it was revenge for an incident three years ago between a resident of the village of Kulikam and the administration of the ArtSeg hotel.
At that time, the incident was settled, but the owner of the hotel Artur Gabrielyan threatened to take revenge.
The murder of the 27-year-old man sparked riots in Akhalkalaki.
The friends of the murdered man started taking out those who had fought against him – they set fire to the house of Artur Gabrielyan, the house of his father Samvel Gabrielyan, as well as the ArtSeg hotel, owned by the Gabrielyans.
They also set fire to the houses of two other friends of Artur Gabrielyan who had participated in the conflict, Gena Zarmaryan and Kliment Kosyan.
No one was in these houses when they were burned down, so no one was hurt.
Immediately after the murder, large groups of special forces and police arrived in Akhalkalaki. The Governor of Samtskhe-Javakheti Besik Amiranashvili also came.
The Georgian ministry of internal affairs issued a statement on the arrest of Artur Gabrielyan on charges of premeditated murder, as well as illegal acquisition, possession and use of firearms.
The maximum penalty for this crime is 7 to 15 years in prison.
Opposition: the government has lost control over the crime situation
“In the center of Akhalkalaki, dozens of people shot and beat each other. Then it continued in the courtyard of the hospital, 15 meters from the main security department. Houses and hotels were on fire, and the state could not stop the riots that lasted all day and night.
This means that the criminal forces feel that they are the masters of this country, and this situation was created by Bidzina Ivanishvili [oligarch, shadow ruler of Georgia, head of the ruling Georgian Dream party],” said Irma Nadirashvili, a representative of the opposition party European Georgia.
Samvel Manukyan, MP and majoritarian candidate from the ruling party, agrees with the assertion that the authorities have lost control over crime.
“The criminal mentality of young people is a serious problem that came to the region from Russia,” he said in an interview with JAMnews.
“There are no such gang factions in Akhalkalaki, thieves or such. But there are strong ties with Russia, where this this just the normal order of things. And our young people there see it and are inspired,” says Manukyan.
“I would like the law to rule in the region” – local representative
MP Samvel Manukyan believes that there is no problem with illegal weapons in the region, but there is a problem with the rule of law:
“The weapons are usually legal, but the question is where and how these weapons are used. One who has a legal weapon should not carry it in his pocket. For example, now all young people have knives with them. I ask them — why? They answer me — that’s just how it is.”
Manukyan says the time has come to radically change the attitude of society towards the police and police control.
“We want there to be rule of law, but no police. It doesn’t work that way.
So they called me from the village of Diliski and asked: what are the special forces doing here in the village? Of course, they don’t like it when their car is stopped and checked. People begin to become indignant and say that in a democratic state, the police should not check every passer-by.
But the police have to be strong when needed. And you shouldn’t complain about it,” says Manukyan.