Artsakh Hero’s Accident Raises Critical Concerns

Hrachya Harutiunian


On Saturday, July 13, 46-year-old Artsakh war hero Hrachya Harutiunian set out on his job in Russia as a truck driver transporting gravel. Near the village of Oznobikhino outside Moscow his truck malfunctioned and hit a passenger bus, killing 18 people and injuring 40.

What followed, however, raises critical concerns of racism and xenophobia against Armenians in Russia—an issue that has grabbed many a headline in the past—as well as a closer look at the emigration problem plaguing Armenia and the state treatment of war veterans.

Immediately after the accident the Russian authorities initiated a criminal investigation and charged him with vehicular homicide.

Russian state television and other media outlets were also quick to blame Harutiunian. Some legal experts and journalists in Moscow suggested, however, that technical faults may have caused the disastrous crash. They said the still unknown owner of the old truck, rather than the driver, may therefore be primarily responsible for the tragedy, reported RFE/RL.

Harutiunian was taken to a court in Moscow to face criminal charges on Monday. Television pictures showed him sitting in a cage, clad in a woman’s housecoat and wearing slippers. The 46-year-old was unable to utter any words, having apparently still not recovered from post-traumatic shock. A Russian state TV report derided his “mooing” and accentuated on his ethnic origin.

The images caused outrage in Armenia, with critics accusing the Russian authorities of violating the presumption of innocence and fanning negative popular attitudes towards migrant workers from the South Caucasus and the Russian North Caucasus. The Armenian human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, expressed serious concern in a letter to his Russian counterpart on Tuesday, added RFE/RL.

Meanwhile, Armenian officials have been scrambling to ensure the public that they are on top of things, with the Russian Embassy in Yerevan issuing assurances that due process will be applied in Harutiunian’s case and condemning efforts to “politicize” the incident.

Protesters in Yerevan

Members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Nigol Aghbalian Student Association and the Yerevan branch of the Armenian Youth Federation held a protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Yerevan, and while waving a woman’s housecoat demanded fair treatment of Harutiunian.

The sad crux of the situation is that Harutiunian had taken the job in Moscow to raise funds for a proper tombstone for his son, Serob, who died a year ago after completing his service in the Armenian Armed Forces, according to Hrachya’s brother Hayk.

In the last 20 years Russia has become home to the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia with Moscow and Krasnodar serving as centers for Armenians emigrating there. For the past several years, Asbarez has reported on numerous incidents involving racially-motivated hate crimes against Armenians in both cities and Russian intolerance toward Armenians has been chronicled.

Through a controversial Russian government-backed program hastening Armenian migration to Russia, which until last year was sanctioned by Armenia’s authorities, thousands of Armenians have moved to Russia. While there, they have had to endure insurmountable socio-economic hardship in order to survive

While Russia is deemed as a strategic partner to Armenia and endeavors to increase its influence in the region, the issue of treatment of Armenian citizens who are forced to migrate to Russia has not been on the agenda of bi-lateral discussion between leaders of the two countries.

On the domestic front, this roadside accident, as tragic as it is, has also brought to the surface the harsh realities of emigration from Armenia, or rather, the poor socio-economic conditions that cause Armenians to emigrate.

During his presidential campaign Serzh Sarkisian said in an interview with RFE/RL that “in no circumstance can a country be a prison for its citizens,” pledging to create conditions in Armenia that are compatible with the countries to which Armenians move. In another interview with broadcast media affiliates in March, Sarkisian blamed Armenia’s woes on what he called “rampant cynicism” among the population and condemned the “forces” that were fueling the flames of the cynicism.

During Sarkisian’s fist term, reports indicated that emigration from Armenia rose with Sarkisian not making any strides in creating “conditions in Armenia that would be, if not like, then at least close to the conditions that our citizens seek abroad,” as he said in the aforementioned interview.

Hrachya Harutiunian fell victim to the skewed policies of the Armenian government which is unable to provide its citizens with adequate jobs and an opportunity to thrive in their own country. What is even more sad is that those who fought for our country in the Karabakh war are also not immune to the disastrous policies of the Armenian government.

Civic organizations in Armenia should protest Russia’s ill-treatment of Harutiunian and others, while the foreign ministry must make the plight of Armenians in Russia a priority discussion point with Russia.

At the same time, the same civic and political organizations must ramp up their advocacy on behalf of Armenian citizens and must demand from the government to take concrete steps and halt the outflow of Armenians from the homeland.

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  1. Armanen said:

    Stop politicizing this issue. Armenians are treated just fine in Russia. Should the publications of Armenians in Russia carry sensationalist articles like this one because some moron sent hate mail to an elderly Maryland couple of Armenian origin last month?

    • Ara said:

      I lived in Moscow for quite a long time (’91 – ’98). Have you?

      How do you know that “Armenians are treated just fine in Russia”?

      Not just Armenians, but all minorities are persecuted in Russia. If your not Slavic looking, you know that you avoid public transport at night and when your alone, because the attitudes of the lower class Slavs will see you in a lot of trouble very quickly.

      There have been many racist attacks against Armenians and other minorities in Russia, use Google, all info is freely available.

      Of course, this is not the attitude of all Russians, but many of the lower classes are brainwashed in to neo Nazi thuggish behavior, condemned equally by educated Russians and decent people everywhere.

      • Gurgen said:

        Had Russians not been racists Russia would have been overrun by Turks and Muslims and Armenia would not exist today. So, Russian racism actually helps Armenia live. But I know you guys here are to brilliant to understand nuances such as this.

        PS: Last I check, racism or no racism, Russian Armenians were the happiest, most affluent and the wealthiest in the world.

        PS: God bless Mother Russia.

        • Ara said:

          Gurgen, I tell you what, get a flight to Moscow, travel around on the subway every night for 1 week, and if you make it out alive, I guarantee that you will be the happiest Armenian in the world!

          Also, there are a lot, a lot of Muslims in Russia and Russia has had very negative genocidal impact on the Muslims and Christians in the North Caucuses for a very long time. If you think Racism is a good thing I really wish that you follow my above advice and see how you feel afterwards, if of course there is an afterwards for you. Anyone that knows what consequences genocidal crimes have on peaceful communities and/or calls themselves a Christian, should not be saying the things you say. Hope you learn your lesson one way or another.

    • bigmoustache said:

      wow youre totally clueless to the hate crime attacks and murders of Caucasians by neo-Nazi groups. the Nazis there have murdered more people than any neo Nazi group in ameica. because they have the support of racist police. they even have the support of political parties and are themselves a political party in Moscow. there are clips on the internet and youtube of them violently attacking random people they perceive as coming from the caucuses. Armenians azeris, chechens, and black people too. in fact they call us “blacks”. theres been more than enough murders even against children. and like ARA said it has happened on their metros a lot.
      theres so much news info on this you would have to be living on mars not to know

  2. lobo said:

    Hrachya Harutiunian fell victim to the skewed policies of the Armenian government which is unable to provide its citizens with adequate jobs and an opportunity to thrive in their own country.

    Could have been so easy. But not with that scum that has been in control for 20 years. Amot, amot.

    • Van said:

      I agree, Armenia’s leadership and oligarchs are directly responsible for this tragedy. They had robbed our people and particularily Hratchya Harutiunyan of any dignity long before the Moscow police or health authorities did. How dare they plunder this land, how dare they force a war veteran into this situation!! Blood is on your hands Serge, Dodi and Company. Shame a hundred times over!

  3. Hagop said:

    1. The judicial system in Armenia is just as bad.

    2. The reason people like Mr. Harutiunian (and many, many others) have to work in Russia? It must have been one of the issues president non-elect Sargsyan forgot to address during his “campaign.”

    3. I’m so glad ordinary Armenian citizens are starting to make some noise about this. Don’t get me wrong… even though I and many other Armenians are critical of Russia, the oligarchs in Armenia and another group of Armenian oligarchs in Russia are extremely pro-Russian, or should I say pro-Putin. It’s the ordinary people that have to suffer. (This is true of all “nationalities” in Russia, by the way.)

  4. Minas said:

    Take a good look at this man Armenians, do you still trust Russians and their government? The only thing Russia cares for is Russia. I would rather fight Turks and go out swinging than to be subjected to what this hero is being subjected. We must secure our own destiny as Armenians, Russia will only bleed us until there is nothing remaining.

    • Ara said:

      Agreed, Armenia is just a Russian pawn, as was before and as is now. Where were they when we needed them most? And how were they involved then? If you seek the answers to these questions you will see exactly what a great “friend” Russia was and is.

      But I really don’t get some of the other comments on here, Hrachya Harutiunian killed 18 people and injured scores of others.

      Was he driving? Yes.

      Was the vehicle faulty? Perhaps, but he still chose to drive it thereby endangering himself and other road users.

      Unless it is found that the bus broke traffic codes and pulled out in front of his truck, then the blame can only lie with him.

      I do agree however, that veterans, of all people, should be taken care of properly and that had he had a job back home, he would not be in Russia driving a truck. Though again, you have to ask, why is the Armenian economy in such a state? One part of the answer lies in the fact, that a strong Armenia won’t need their big, bad Russian “friend”, but that’s not good for Russia.

      We can’t pick our relatives, but we can pick our friends and ever since we have had our Russian “friend” things have not gone well for us.

  5. Parsik said:

    Russia (our big historical brat and protector) practically owns Armenia , so why you make a big fuss about this, they will treat their slaves as they wish , this disasterous path that we have followed faitfully after Abovian and other russophiles as a holy national dogma, has alienated us from all of our other neighbors and was the main reason of huge loss of Armenian populations and land throghout Armenian Highlands during last two centuries, and the sad thing is that process still going strong even today

    • lobo said:

      Whether or not it was this step that alienated us from our beloved Turkish neighbours should be subject to discussion, my dear. I believe we were not very well included in the Ottoman empire already during pre-genocide massacres, Wouldn’t you agree?

    • notso said:

      As tempting as it may be, accepting your argument would be nothing short of agreeing with the picture painted by Turks of a treacherous Armenian minority deserving to be massacred. Ottoman Armenians did not “choose” to ally themselves with Russia; the Turkish oppression was so heavy that it forced Armenian revolutionaries to join the Russians. Or are you suggesting that there would have been no genocide if Armenian revolutionaries hadn’t joined Russia? Then you should read your history again. The reason of the genocide was islam. Look at the Assyrians in Iraq today, look at the Copts in Egypt, look at Christians in Nigeria and Pakistan. They’re all being slaughtered and driven out of their ancestral lands. The reason for the genocide was the Tanzimat reforms which were violently rejected by Turks and Kurds who would not see themselves become equals before Ottoman law together with Christian subjects. The Armenian rebels’ alliance with Russia was just a by-effect and a pretext for even larger massacres. Also, we are not alienated from all other neighbours, we have good relations with the Persians. As for Georgians, they are oppressors of Ossetians and we should support the Ossetians in that conflict, because Georgians are unsympathetic in general and quite turcophile in particular.

      As for Armenian dependence upon Russia today. Well, what can I say. There’s no other option. Ossetians are even more dependent. You have to be realistic, nobody wants to be the colony of another country but what do you expect when Armenia has only 2 million inhabitants and is surrounded by 100 million genocidal turks? If we had nukes like Israel, now that would have been another story.

  6. bigmoustache said:

    the sad fact is that the only people raising funds for artsakh veterans is the ARF, although they could step up their effort more. the Armenian govt does NOTHING for the veterans and I think its DISGUSTING for sarkissyan to blame those who criticize the corrupt leaders of our country instead of blaming the corruption. people like serzh sarkissyan. tigran sarkissyan, gagik tsarukyan, ruben hayrapetyan, suren khachatryan and many more are to blame. all they care about is filling their pockets and its the citizens who suffer.
    ENOUGH already. theyre stunting our growth and potential. they are the new genocide Armenians are facing.
    I pray for hratchya harutyunian, I hope he can get over his depression and PTSD. its up to us in the diaspora and Armenian citizens to make sure he gets help and justice. don’t expect ANYTHING from the government.
    as time goes by we are getting more fed up with the ineptitude and “dkedoutoun” of our government but words alone will never change this status. its going to take action and those that can act but are unwilling or afraid will be condemned in history.

  7. bedros said:

    Unfortunate as it may be, at the end of the day, one way or the other way, the uproar will halt the galloping emigration. The English idiom says “every cloud has a silver lining.”

  8. Ivetta said:

    I suggest someone punish the bitch olga skabeeva, reporter of Rossia1 channel in the most severe way, since it is her fault (may be others’ but we know her name only as a matter of fact) to raise anger among us Armenians. Another step is to punish those who brought the driver Hrachya Harutyunyan to the court in the gown and slippers, when he was in shock and didn’t realize what was going on, when he needed a psychologist to treat him from the shock. Armenians from all over the world let’s get united and show the world our strength and will! Others must fear us, but will never do if we go on doing what we did when Gurgen Margaryan was murdered by the maniac azeri who is now enjoying his life, whereas we must have taken care of his damned life and teared him into pieces in Hungary.

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  10. Avetis said:

    Pettiness, hysteria, stupidity, irrationality and debilitating emotional problems seem to the the norm in Armenian society.

    God save Armenia from the Armenians and God help preserve Russian-Armenian relations.

    • bigmoustache said:

      screw the Russians. we are not their puppet. we need to have our own factories and learn more self reliance

    • Sako said:

      Talk about a bad ally and “racists”! Eighteen innocent civilians murdered, and not one of these so-called allies has uttered a word of condolence. They are too hung up on the race of the dress-wearing perpetrator.

  11. Gazzo said:

    There are no issues with Armenian treatment in Russia. Armenians are comfortable and do not experience hostility or rejection. There will be isolated incidents of rough or unbecoming treatment, and such incidents should not be politicized, nor generalized.

    • bigmoustache said:

      yes they should. Armenians should avoid going to Russia and becoming russianized. no more of this dirty Russian culture infiltrating Armenian culture. no more Russian names, we have over 5000 years of history, pick an Armenian name for your children there are thousands to choose from! no more Russian alphabet in Armenia on stores and signs. 70 years of their occupation created low morale, alcoholism, joblessness, laziness and apathy. and dressing like an ugly idiot with no taste. this is not Armenia, some wannabe Russian lookalike state. jashagavor enk (at least those who grew up without Russian influence. the one thing the soviet union stands for and represents. laziness, ineptitude, ignorance, alcohol and violence.

      • bigmoustache said:

        and look at our police uniforms and military dress uniforms. theyre soviet! do you know which other countries still wear soviet uniforms? kasakistan, Uzbekistan, kyrgistan, north korea. is this who we want to be bunched up with?

  12. Tlkatintsi said:

    How does the author of this article know for certain that the truck “malfunctioned”?

  13. Gazzo said:

    There seems to be unjustified anti Russian histeria. What would the russophobes want us to do ? Wake up somnolent keyboard warriors, Russia is next to us. She is powerful and will exert influence upon Armenia. It benefits no one the alarming anti Russian rants. It appears that the unfortunate tragic accident of Harutunyan has created an opportunistic platform for the russophobes to launch their anti Russian diatribes.

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  15. Edgar said:

    We must not criticize Russians nor Armenians. Most of the people leaving comments here seem to be above average people. The number one problem we have is UNITY! We must be united to survive. This man fought for our people and we must never forget our heroes. Long live Monte Melkonian!!