Businessman Gunned Down in Armenia

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Law-enforcement authorities were hunting on Wednesday for unknown gunmen that shot and killed a controversial businessman who referred to himself as the "godfather of all Armenia’s" and reportedly had underworld connections.

Aleksandr Givoev–53–was gunned down on Tuesday at a roadside market on a major highway where he reportedly stopped to buy fruit while driving his family to the northern city of Gyumri. An innocent woman who sold agricultural produce there was also killed by a stray bullet fired from what police described as a stolen car used by the gunmen.

A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General’s Office said the car was found completely burned about 10 kilometers from the scene shortly after the shooting. She said law-enforcement officials immediately launched a criminal investigation but have made no arrests yet.

A father of seven–Givoev was officially known in recent years as the head of a non-governmental organization campaigning for the protection of children’s rights. He claimed to have helped to baptize more than 8,000 children from socially vulnerable families since the group’s creation in 2000.

Givoev–notorious for his flamboyant behavior and statemen’s–unsuccessfully ran for parliament in the May 2003 elections. A campaign booklet released in the run-up to the vote carried pictures of Givoev surrounded by children. Curiously–he was also pictured–apparently in Paris–with Jean-Paul Belmondo–a famous French movie star. The booklet claimed that "the people" have bestowed on Givoev–an ethnic Assyrian–the title of Godfather of All Armenia’s.

Givoev spent much of the past three decades in Russia–developing a controversial reputation there. In 2001–the Armenian newspaper "Iravunk" reprinted a Russian press report that listed him among Russia’s leading crime figures of Caucasian descent. The businessman reacted furiously to the information–urging President Robert Kocharian to close the paper.

Givoev was last spotted by journalists in early May as he tried to board a plane at Yerevan airport that carried relatives of the Armenian Airbus A-320–which crashed off the Russian Black Sea cost–to the site of the disaster. He said one of the crash victims–also a reputed crime figure–was a close friend of his.

In addition–Givoev–who also sponsored the Armenian women’s weightlifting team–was seen wearing an army general’s uniform during the April 24 commemoration in Yerevan of the 91st anniversary of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Seyran Shahsuvarian insisted on Wednesday that he has never served in Armenia’s military–police or any other security structure. >

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