YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—A Russian soldier accused of murdering the seven members of the Avetisyan family in Gyumri in January will be tried by an Armenian court, state prosecutors in Yerevan officially confirmed on Tuesday.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General elaborated on President Serzh Sarkisian’s announcement late last week that Russia has agreed to transfer the high-profile criminal case to Armenian jurisdiction.
The law-enforcement agency said it will be done after a “settlement of procedural issues.”
“We cannot speak of concrete time frames at the moment,” it said in a statement. “What is clear, however, is that Armenian law enforcers will investigate the murder case while Armenian courts will administer justice.”
Valery Permyakov, the Russian serviceman accused of the murders, has been kept under arrest at the Gyumri headquarters of the 102nd Russian Military Base in Armenia since being arrested on January 12 shortly after a local couple, their daughter, son, daughter-in-law and 2-year-old granddaughter were found dead in their home. The seventh member of the Avetisyan family, a 6-month-old baby boy, died of his stab injuries a week later.
Permyakov admitted murdering them during separate interrogations by Russian and Armenian law enforcement officials. His motives remain unclear.
Russian authorities made it clear immediately after the discovery of the massacre that Permyakov would not be extradited to Armenia. The decision caused outrage among many Armenians fearing a Russian cover-up of the gruesome crime. Thousands demonstrated in Gyumri on January 14-15 to demand Permyakov’s handover to Armenian officials. Some clashed with riot police outside the Russian consulate in Gyumri.
The unprecedented protests forced Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian to formally ask his Russian counterpart Yuri Chayka to ensure that the high-profile case is placed under Armenian jurisdiction. But even after Kostanian’s request Russian officials insisted that the detained soldier would be tried by a Russian military court.
According to the Armenian prosecutors’ statement, the reversal of Russia’s decision was the result of “lengthy negotiations” held by Russian and Armenian officials. It said the two sides ultimately agreed that they should be guided not only by their respective national legislations but also by international law.
Russia’s constitution prohibits the extradition to other states of Russian nationals wanted for various crimes. Still, a Russian-Armenian treaty signed in 1997 envisages the handover to Armenian authorities of Russian soldiers charged with crimes committed outside Russian military installations in Armenia.
Armenian observers link Permyakov’s impending extradition with continuing street protests in Yerevan against electricity price hikes initiated by Armenia’s Russian-owned power distribution network. They say Moscow is now keen to woo Armenians in order to prevent the protests from growing into the kind of a Western-backed popular revolt that deposed Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych last year.