Defense Minister Vows Action Over Army Shootings
YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia’s Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian has offered his condolences to the families of seven soldiers shot dead in non-combat incidents last week and assured them that “everything” is being done to solve the shootings.
“We are fully conscious that no words of consolation can ease the pain of the parents and other relatives of the dead,” he said in a televised address broadcast over the weekend. “No equation mark can be put between compassion and tears of irreversible sorrow.”
“But do believe me that every serviceman is my son, my younger brother, and that in this difficult moment, both you and myself need consolation and especially public support,” he said. “At the same time, I want to assure you that all necessary measures are being taken to identify the causes of the incidents and hold the guilty accountable.”
Ohanian listed all the victims by name. Six of them died in a single incident that reportedly occurred at an Armenian army unit in Nagorno-Karabakh on July 28, the day after the other serviceman, Lieutenant Artak Nazarian, was found dead on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.
The Defense Ministry released the name of the soldiers that died during last week’s shoot out. They are: Senior Lieutenatnt Vardges Tadevosyan (Yerevan), Garegin Hovsepyan (Etchmiadzin), Andranik Sargsyan (Yerevan), Robert Hovhannisyan (Vanadzor), Artyom Manasyan (Charentsavan) and Karo Ayvazyan (Yerevan), reported Hetq.am.
Citing “preliminary information,” the Armenian Defense Ministry suggested Nazarian shot himself for unknown reasons. Ohanian was careful to stress that the officer died “in still unclear circumstances.”
Military investigators subordinated to Ohanian have so far reported no arrests and given no other details of the ongoing inquiry.
Ohanian urged the victims’ relatives not to trust in “discrediting gossips” and called for a broader public “restraint” over the shock deaths. “Let us not forget that this is our army, an army that won the Artsakh war and now ensures the security of our homeland,” he said.
“As defense minister of the Republic of Armenia, I am fully aware of our army’s problems, and want to assure you that the leadership of the Armed Forces have done and is doing everything to root out conditions giving birth to such incidents and to prevent human losses,” added the minister.
Six Armenian army servicemen reportedly were shot dead last week in two separate non-combat incidents highlighting lingering abuse and other serious problems within the country’s armed forces.
The Armenian Defense Ministry reported on Thursday evening that an “incident” involving “use of firearms” and resulting in an unspecified number of casualties took place at one of its military bases on Wednesday. It gave no details, saying only that military investigators have received “strictest orders” to clarify all circumstances of the incident.
A source close to the Armenian government told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that it occurred at an Armenian army unit in Nagorno-Karabakh. The source said a soldier serving there shot dead four officers before turning his gun on himself.
The shooting was reported two days after Nazarian was found dead in at an army outpost on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.
The Armenian soldier who allegedly killed himself and four other servicemen last week had a long criminal record in the United States and should not have been drafted on his return to Armenia, according to his relatives.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service at the weekend, they accused military authorities of ignoring their warnings that Karo Ayvazian is a convicted and mentally unstable felon unfit for military service.
Ayvazian, 21, was one five soldiers who were shot dead, along with one of their commanders, at an Armenian army unit last week. The Armenian Defense Ministry says the shootings were sparked by a dispute resulting from “a blatant violation of the rules of combat duty.” It has declined to give further details, saying that a criminal investigation is underway.
Some human rights activists privy to the inquiry claim that Ayvazian went on a shooting spree and turned his gun on himself after a dispute with the officer. Military investigators have not comment on these claims.
According to two close relatives of Ayvazian, the young man had emigrated to the U.S. with his mother in 1992 and was deported to Armenia in 2009 because of a long history of criminal conduct, including robbery and illegal arms possession. They said he was first jailed at the age of 13 and spent most of the following years in prisons and, briefly, at a psychiatric clinic in California.
“If law was enforced in Armenia, Karo Ayvazian would not have been drafted at all,” said Anushavan Mikaelian, Ayvazian’s uncle. Mikaelian said both he and his father Jivan repeatedly alerted at a military commissariat in Yerevan and the Defense Ministry about this fact.
“It is written in his papers that one cannot give him any weapons, but they still drafted and sent him to the frontline,” said Jivan Mikaelian “Why did they do that? … They said, ‘America is a foreign country.’”
“We showed papers saying that he has a criminal record, spent time in a psychiatric hospital and so on, but it didn’t work because there was no money to be made,” added the dead soldier’s grandfather. He claimed that an official at the commissariat was ready to have Ayvazian exempted from compulsory military service only in exchange for a $4,000 bribe.
The two men told RFE/RL that they can not show those documents because they never got them back from military officials.
However, a senior Defense Ministry official, who did not want to be identified, dismissed these claims on Monday. He said that Mikaelian and his son had not produced any valid US documents certifying Ayvazian’s criminal convictions.
Under Armenian law, draft-age male citizens can not serve in the Armed Forces if they have three or more years behind bars.