GYUMRI (RFE/RL)—A Russian soldier accused of murdering seven members of an Armenian family in Gyumri was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Wednesday in the first trial held by Russian authorities for the gruesome crime.
A Russian military court found Valery Permyakov guilty of desertion, stealing firearms and ammunition, and illegally carrying weapons during the one-day trial held at the Gyumri headquarters of a Russian military base in Armenia. It also ruled that the defendant did not and does not suffer from mental illnesses and was therefore fit to stand trial.
The court did not deal with the killings themselves, in line with Russian authorities’ recent decision to transfer the most important part of the high-profile criminal case to Armenian jurisdiction.
That decision means that Permyakov will also be tried by an Armenian court on separate charges of murdering a Gyumri couple, their daughter, son, daughter-in-law and two young grandchildren. Possible dates of that trial are not yet known.
Permyakov has been kept under arrest at the Russian army headquarters in Armenia’s second largest city ever since being arrested near the Armenian-Turkish border early on January 13, hours after six members of the Avetisian family were found shot dead in their home. The family’s seventh member, a 6-month-old baby boy, died of his stab injuries a week later. Permyakov admitted to murdering them during separate interrogations by Russian and Armenian law enforcement officials.
The 19-year-old conscript looked calm as he appeared before the Russian court martial and quickly pleaded guilty to the accusations. He refused to testify at the trial, telling the presiding judge that he stands by his pre-trial testimony that was read out in part by a Russian military prosecutor.
“I fully accept my guilt and regret my deeds,” Permyakov declared during the opening hearing attended by dozens of Armenian and Russian reporters as well as several relatives of the victims. Armenian lawyers representing the latter were also in attendance.
One of the lawyers, Lusine Sahakian, described the trial as “incredibly short.”
“It was clear that all the parties were in a hurry,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service after the announcement of the verdict.
Another attorney, Mihran Poghosian, complained that Permyakov’s written testimony was not presented in full and that he and his colleagues still lack access to it. “Besides, there were contradictions in what was presented in the court,” he said.
According to that publicized written account, Permyakov decided to desert his unit because he had grown homesick and wanted to reunite with his family living in a small town in eastern Siberia. The soldier claimed to have planned to cross into Turkey with the aim of returning to Russia.
Permyakov told prosecutors that he randomly picked the Avetisians’ modest house as he sought to get money and civilian clothes before crossing the border with Turkey. He said he never intended to kill its inhabitants but somehow opened fire out of fear.
Permyakov’s lawyer demanded at the court hearing that his client not be asked questions regarding the killings, arguing that they are now being investigated by Armenian law enforcement authorities.
Officials in Moscow insisted until very recently that Permyakov would only be tried by a Russian court, citing Russia’s constitution which prohibits the extradition of Russian nationals to foreign states.
The stance caused outrage among many Armenians fearing a Russian cover-up of the massacre. Thousands demonstrated in Gyumri on January 14-15 to demand Permyakov’s handover to Armenian authorities. Some of them clashed with riot police outside the local Russian consulate.
Russian authorities eventually agreed to place the murder case under Armenian jurisdiction. Their change of heart was first announced in late June, coinciding with street protests in Yerevan against electricity price hikes initiated by Armenia’s Russian-owned power distribution network.
The Russian judge ruled on Wednesday that Permyakov would remain in Russian military custody in Gyumri until his guilty verdict enters into force. He said Permyakov can appeal against it at a higher military court in Russia.
Armenian investigators have yet to clarify whether they will seek to gain custody of Permyakov before his anticipated Armenian trial. Yerem Sargsian, the third lawyer representing the victim’s relatives, expressed confidence that Russian authorities will not try to transport Permyakov to Russia before the Armenian trial takes place.