YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia’s Court of Appeals opened hearings Thursday on a lower court verdict in the trial of a Russian soldier who was convicted of murdering an Armenian family of seven in Gyumri.
A local middle-aged couple, their daughter, son, daughter-in-law and 2-year-old granddaughter were found shot dead in their home in January 2015. The Avetisian family’s seventh member, a 6-month-old baby boy, died of his stab wounds a week later.
Valery Permyakov, a Russian soldier who served in a Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri, has admitted killing them shortly after deserting his unit earlier that day. He told Russian and Armenian investigators last year that he had grown homesick and wanted to reunite with his family living in a small town in Siberia.
Russian military tribunal sentenced Permyakov to 10 years in prison for desertion in August 2015.
His main, Armenian trial on murder charges began later in 2015. A Gyumri court sentenced Permyakov to life imprisonment in August this year. Lawyers representing both the defendant and the victims’ relatives appealed against the verdict.
In particular, Permyakov’s Armenian lawyer, Eduard Aghajanian, demanded that his client be cleared of attempting to flee to neighboring Turkey immediately after the killings.
For their part, the victims’ representatives challenged the official theory that Permyakov acted alone. They want a new, more thorough investigation of the shock massacre that sparked angry protests in Armenia’s second largest city.
Their legal representatives also petitioned the Court of Appeals to strike down the Gyumri court’s rejection of a hefty financial compensation demanded by them from the Russian state. The two daughters of the murdered couple and the parents of the Avetisians’ slain daughter-in-law had demanded 450,000 euros ($500,000) in damages in a separate civil lawsuit.
The high court in Yerevan began its hearings on the appeals in Permyakov’s absence. Mher Arghamanian, one of its three judges dealing with the case, read out a letter by the defendant notifying the court that he does not want to attend the hearings.
The letter prompted strong objections from the lawyers representing the victims’ relatives. One of them, Lusine Sahakian, suggested that Permyakov, who remains in Russian military custody at the Gyumri base, is forced not to attend the proceedings and give more testimony.
Aghajanian was also baffled by the decision communicated on behalf of his client. “This could mean two things,” he said. “First, he doesn’t care what will happen. Second, the appeal filed by the relatives of the victims to overturn the lower court ruling and order a new probe of the case.”
Another judge, Mkhitar Papoyan, countered that under Armenian law the Russian soldier cannot be forcibly brought to the Court of Appeals. Still, Arghamanian told the lawyers that he will write to Permyakov to ask for further explanations of his decision.