YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Human rights activists and ordinary citizens in Armenia are questioning the priority of a Russian-jurisdiction trial of a soldier accused of murdering seven members of an Armenian family in Gyumri earlier this year.
The trial of Valery Permyakov, a 19-year-old Russian conscript who had served for a little more than a month in the Russian 102nd military base’s tank battalion before going on a shooting rampage in Gyumri on January 12, is set to open in the northwestern Armenian city on August 12.
Permyakov will first be tried by a Russian military court on charges of desertion with arms, stealing of firearms and ammunition, and illegally carrying weapons brought against him under the Russian Criminal Code.
The trial in connection with the massacre itself is expected to take place in an Armenian court, but no date for this trial has been announced.
Russia, which for months refused to allow Permyakov’s prosecution and trial by Armenian authorities, unexpectedly agreed to transfer the case to Armenian investigators in late June amid large-scale street protests in Yerevan against electricity price hikes initiated by the Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA), a local subsidiary of Russia’s Inter RAO energy giant.
Later in June, Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General reaffirmed that Permyakov will stand trial in connection with the family murder case in an Armenian court.
Permyakov has been kept under arrest at the Gyumri headquarters of the Russian military base in Armenia since being apprehended by Russian border-guards hours after a local couple, their daughter, son, daughter-in-law and two-year-old granddaughter were found dead in their home on January 12. The seventh member of the Avetisian family, a six-month-old baby boy, succumbed to his stab wounds a week later.
Permyakov admitted to murdering the Armenian family during separate interrogations by Russian and Armenian law enforcement officials, but his motives still remain unclear.
Russian authorities made it clear immediately after the discovery of the massacre that the alleged murderer would not be handed over to Armenia, causing across Armenia, with many fearing a Russian cover-up of the case. Thousands of people demonstrated in Gyumri in mid-January to demand Permyakov’s handover to Armenian authorities. Some clashed with riot police near the Russian consulate in Armenia’s second largest city.
The unprecedented protests forced Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian to formally ask his Russian counterpart Yuri Chayka in February to ensure that the high-profile case is transferred to Armenian jurisdiction. But the announcement that the Permyakov case would be transferred to Armenian investigators came five months later, as the Armenian government tried to end protests sparked by the decision to grant the Russian-owned company’s bid to raise electricity prices.
Still, concerns have been voiced in Armenia that the trial opening in Gyumri on Wednesday may be used somehow to bypass the decision that has apparently been taken at the political level.
Lusine Sahakian, a lawyer who represents the interests of the Avetisians’ legal successors, does not deny that the Russian trial of Permyakov will end sooner than the Armenian investigators are ready to submit the case to the Armenian court. At present, the nine-volume case on the family murder that has been handed over to the Armenian side is still being translated from Russian to Armenian.
Still, Sahakian all but excludes that even in that case this will mean that Permyakov will be immediately transferred to a prison somewhere in Russia to serve his sentence related to desertion and other charges not directly related to the murders.
“We know that certain negotiations have been conducted and we have got assurances at the level of the president that there will be a trial at the Armenian court of law. Perhaps they also discussed this matter [and agreed] that if the [Russian] trial of Permyakov ends earlier, then he should be available for being tried in an Armenian court as well,” she says.
The August 12 trial to be conducted by the 5th Garrison Military Court of the South Caucasus Military District of the Russian Federation will be open to the public. The Russian side, however, is expected to controls who will be allowed to enter the court room.
Sahakian says that her clients—if they decide to attend—will not have any legal status at the trial and will be observers. Still, she says she is going to attend the hearings because the circumstances of the case to be heard there may also shed some light on the killings.
Ordinary people in Gyumri, meanwhile, appear mistrustful of both the Russian and the Armenian courts.
Artush Mkrtchian, a middle-aged local scholar, regards the entire investigation of the Permyakov case as “a farce from the beginning.”
“I don’t expect more from the trial. You know, such cases generally remain unsolved or they get solved only in other times, under a different government and in conditions of other relations,” Mkrtchian says. “If Armenia could stand its ground, I don’t think that the Russians would have behaved like that. It’s a complete disregard towards us because the person who murdered our citizens gets to be tried by a foreign court, another country’s court.”
Another Gyumri resident, Ashot Mirzoyan, said, “I cannot understand why we have been indifferent to this matter. During those days [in January] we were speaking our minds in order to make sure he [Permyakov] did not get away with it, because this issue is very important and concerns our security, but now you see what you see.”