The Gyumri Killings: Beyond the Legal Arguments

A requiem service in memory of six-month-old Seryozha Avetisyan took place in Gyumri on Jan. 20. (Photo: Photolure\Hayk Baghdasaryan)


BY HOURY MAYISSIAN
From the Armenian Weekly

More than a week since the Gyumri killings, the city and Armenia at large are still struggling to come to terms with the heinous crime that wiped out an entire family. As the massacre’s youngest victim, six-month-old Seryozha Avetisyan succumbed to his injuries on Monday, many questions remain unanswered; chief among them – what happens to the culprit?

Valery Permyakov, a Russian soldier stationed at the 102nd Russian Military Base in Gyumri, is said to be responsible for the multiple killings. Permyakov was captured by Russian border guards trying to flee across the Armenian-Turkish border and remains in Russian custody to this day.

Immediately after the tragic event, angry protests broke out in Gyumri, demanding that Permyakov be handed over to the Armenian justice system. However, announcements made by Russian and Armenian officials indicate that this is unlikely to be the case.

A statement by Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor General first cited the Russian Constitution that bars the extradition of a Russian citizen to a foreign country. Questions about how and why Permyakov appeared and remains in Russian custody aside, it is incomprehensible why a representative of Armenia’s justice system would refer to the Russian Constitution in relation to a crime committed on Armenian soil.

Facing mounting pressure from the public while in Gyumri, Prosecutor General Gevorg Kostanyan then gave assurances that Permyakov will be tried in Armenia but shied away from promising that he will be prosecuted in an Armenian court. The best he could offer protestors in Gyumri was a promise to appeal to his Russian counterpart asking for Permyakov’s handover. It is unclear what steps Kostanyan has taken since.

The 1997 bilateral treaty between Russia and Armenia that established the terms under which the Russian 102nd military base is stationed in Gyumri, states that soldiers who commit crimes outside the confines of the base are subject to Armenian law. The same treaty upholds Russian jurisdiction over crimes committed within Russian military facilities in Armenia, a clause that has been cited as one justification for not handing over Permyakov, given that the latter also deserted his base just before allegedly committing the crime.

In essence, however, the criminal’s handover is not about what legal frameworks apply and which loopholes can be exploited. It is about Armenia’s leadership (finally) speaking out for its people; it is about respect between two nations; it is a matter of pride, dignity and justice for a nation too often overlooked by its own government and too often coerced by its more powerful neighbor.

While the country mourns, protests and demands answers, the silence of its leaders has been deafening. Save for a few meagre announcements that expressed condolences and urged restraint, the President, the government, the political parties have, by and large, been silent; silent and absent.

There has been no condemnation, no outrage, no genuine sympathy. Attempts to declare a national day of mourning have been dismissed. And when the people of Gyumri bid farewell to the Avetisyan family at a sombre funeral service, there was no one standing by their side to share their pain and to assure them that Armenian citizens are safe in their homeland, that answers will be provided, that this won’t happen again in a city that has already suffered so much loss.

If the intent of the silence has been to not upset Russia, ironically it has proved counter-productive as evidenced by the protests held outside the Russian diplomatic representations in Yerevan and Gyumri as well as the Military Base itself. If it has simply been a matter of incompetence, then sadly, that’s a tragedy of its own.

The Armenian government needs to speak up for its people. Rather than citing the Russian constitution, it has to do everything in its power to ensure Permyakov’s handover. Rather than curbing protests, it should provide the people with a sense of security and assurances that justice will be served. Whatever the end result may be, the people of Armenia need to know that their government made every effort possible on their behalf.

The Russian government too has a role to play. At this point in time in particular, it needs to demonstrate respect for the wishes of a deeply wounded nation, an ally and neighbour, and hand over the soldier responsible for the killings without any further delay.

It is not the first time that a citizen of one country is found guilty of committing a crime in the other. In July 2013, Hrachya Harutyuyan, a citizen of Armenia working as a truck driver in Russia, crashed his vehicle into a bus, resulting in the unfortunate death of 18 people. Shortly after his arrest, Harutyunyan was brought before a Russian courtroom dressed in women’s clothing, the humiliating photos causing much anger in Armenia. Harutyunyan is currently serving a six-year prison sentence in Russia. It is impossible to not compare the action and reaction in each case.

No, the handling of the Permyakov case is not about jurisdiction. For the people of Armenia, it is about instilling justice and restoring the dignity of Armenia. It is about ensuring that Armenia’s relationship with Russia be based on mutual respect and understanding – not merely on a cold calculation of national interests.

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5 Comments

  1. hiedi said:

    *** It is a sad day indeed..!!! how weak and incompetent the Armenian government can be.?
    *** LONG LIVE FREE & STRONG INDEPENDENT ARMENIA ***
    The ancient land of beautiful people and culture.

  2. zarkim said:

    Mr Putin has promised full employment for Russians even if they have mental problems.
    Russians should keep their mentally unstable citizens in their own country.
    .
    What is this sick person (Valery Permyakov) doing in Armenia?
    .
    Mr Putin must punish Valery Permyakov SEVERELY and COMPENSATE Armenia (100,s of Millions $..) and pay the same to the effected family for all costs and future rehabilitation for the pain and sufferings.
    .
    This sick soldier should be QUESTIONED by Armenians to prepare a comprehensive report about the incident and find out how many people were involved?
    .
    Who encouraged (Accompanied) this sick dog? Who else WAS INVOLVED? What took place?
    .
    These questions MUST BE ANSWERED.
    .
    Mr Putin’s soldiers are a danger to Armenia unless they are answerable to the ARMENIAN POLICE if they misbehave.
    .
    Armenia should make sure that there are NO MORE SICK RUSSIANS in ARMENIA.
    .
    Russian soldiers should not wonder the streets if ARMED. A special Armenian army unit should monitor their movements.
    .
    An Armenian court should question this soldier. We cannot trust the Russians to do it properly.

  3. Arn.Sweden. said:

    Does not Russia respekt Armenia.

    I Quote –

    A statement by Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor General first cited the Russian Constitution that bars the extradition of a Russian citizen to a foreign country.

    Comment – so –

    if an Russian cityzen comits a crime in Russia and flee but are caught in Armenia – what then ?
    This Russian is not extradited to Armenia – He is already in Armenia where he comitted a crime.

    Shall all Russians comitting crimes abroad be extradited to Russia or what ?

    Arn.Sweden.

    • Hratch said:

      Until now you were the one constantly praising Russia and its policies towards Armenia. It had to take a tragedy like this to snap you out of your stupor. The issue alone is not who murdered this family, but how it is now being treated in the aftermath. Mother Russia is stepping all over Armenia simply to protect her image. Let this prove to all Russophiles once and for all that Mother Russia is no ally. They are working for their best interest, and as such, we must work for our best interest. As it stands now, we’re simply a lapdog for their every whim.

  4. Sarkis said:

    -“In essence, however, the criminal’s handover is not about what legal frameworks apply and which loopholes can be exploited. It is about Armenia’s leadership (finally) speaking out for its people; it is about respect between two nations; it is a matter of pride, dignity and justice for a nation too often overlooked by its own government and too often coerced by its more powerful neighbor.”
    -This situation is none of what you described, it is a tragedy which has been politicized and weaponized by regime change experts in Washington. Armenia is “coerced” by Russia? That’s a misrepresentation of fact designed to appeal to emotion and illiterate people. Russia delivers cheap or free weapons, technology, expertise, gas, nuclear fuel and know-how, food, and protections for Armenia from Turkey and Azerbaijan, and many other things that allow an Armenian state to exist in the South Caucasus. I don’t know on which planet that counts as “coercion” but here on Earth we call that a strategic alliance. And speaking of respect between nations, Russian citizens, Russian media and Russian officials have apologized repeatedly for what that animal did in Gyumri and are cooperating fully with Armenia; meanwhile I do not know of a single Armenian who apologized when driver Hratchya killed 18 Russian civilians (that’s three times as many deaths as the Gyumri Tragedy) a year ago. I do not want to downplay the tragedy in Gyumri, but it does not help Armenia in any way to pretend we are victimized by Russia, or that Armenian killed by Russians are worthy of condemnation but Russians killed by Armenians can be chalked up as some isolated incident.

    -“There has been no condemnation, no outrage, no genuine sympathy…”
    This sentence proves that facts mean nothing for this author. There has actually been nothing but the strongest levels of condemnation, outrage and sympathy from all levels of both the Armenian and Russian governments. From Putin to the ambassador to Sargsyan and every official in between, everyone has condemned Permyakov as a vicious and immoral subhuman. The Russian media have apologized, mourners place flowers and candles at the Armenian embassy in Moscow, and the military has expressed genuine sorrow for the event. The comments on Russian-language media are overwhelmingly sympathetic for the victims in Gyumri, and calls for executing Permyakov are expressed by large numbers of Russians. I do not know if Houri is ignorant or just a pathological liar.

    -“For the people of Armenia, it is about instilling justice and restoring the dignity of Armenia.”
    Much like any other legitimate attempt at airing a grievance in the world today, this case was hijacked by western jackals inside Armenia as soon as the protests gained momentum. Armenia’s dignity problems stem mostly from the doom-and-gloom campaign the west runs in Armenia. Armenia’s dignity problems stem from the fact that the nation is saturated with western activists ready to hijack any legitimate protest (the Gyumri tragedy, non-combat deaths, tax hikes, bans on unregistered street kiosks, taxi fares being increased by a few pennies, conflicting interests between mining and nature preservation, the death of a villager woman at the hands of an abusive husband and mother-in-law, etc) and turn it into a weapon to try and topple the Armenian government. Armenia’s dignity problems are Armenian-Americans like Richard Hovannisian claiming Armenia is a worse country than our genocidal neighbor Turkey. It’s beyond hypocrisy that the same vermin that a week ago would not have hesitated to call for the assassination of most Armenian judicial officials on charges of “corruption” have now shifted their position to unlimited support for Armenia’s judiciary because they see it as a tool to harm the Armenia-Russia alliance.

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