‘The Army in Reality’

“Two years ago my brother Artak celebrated Army Day on the border of Armenia. Today, he is missing and nothing can bring him back.” (Photo by Svetlana Antonyan)

From The Armenian Weekly

YEREVAN—“Two years ago my brother Artak celebrated Army Day on the border of Armenia. Today, he is missing and nothing can bring him back,” Tsovinar Nazaryan, 36, told the Armenian Weekly. She, along with around 200 protesters, lined the sidewalk of Yerevan’s Republic Square to protest the abuse and murders in the Armenian Army. The Silent Rally took place on Jan. 28, the day Armenia celebrated the 20thanniversary of its armed forces.

The demonstrators wished to convey a message much different than the congratulatory address by Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan. Family members, friends, and supporters of soldiers killed by their fellow soldiers and commanders held a candlelight vigil to draw attention to the string of abuses that has plagued the army.

They carried pictures of soldiers killed. They held signs that read, “We did not turn 20,” and “The absence of torture is our strength.” The march began at Liberty Square where, despite the relentless wind, protesters lit their candles and caravanned on to Northern Boulevard—passing out flyers along the way—and came to a stop at Republic Square.

Svetlana Antonyan, 29, is an active member of “The Army in Reality” (“Panagn Iraganum,” in Armenian), a group that raises awareness of injustices within the army and advocates for accountability. It was formed after three mothers held silent protests every Thursday morning in front of the presidential building, explained Maro Matosian, the country director of Armenia and Karabagh at the Tufenkian Foundation. Surrounded by eight policemen, the women would sit, clutching pictures of their deceased sons. Their persistence found support, and many joined in their struggle, including Antonyan.

“The force that drags me out of my apartment almost every Thursday morning, even in this freezing cold weather, is the hope that our rallies will bring fundamental change to the current system in the army,” Antonyan told the Weekly. Some of her friends hesitate to join the protests for fear of losing their jobs, and their family members’ safety. Antonyan hopes to also represent their voices. She believes that despite the small size of the group, they can bring about real change.

“I am going there for many people. For the mothers who have lost their sons… We want to have an army we are proud of,” she said.

Human rights groups contend that most army suicides are in reality homicides, and that army officers often tamper with evidence and cover up these crimes.

In Artak Nazaryan’s case, his family believes that initial investigations were carried out hastily, without certain routine precautions, like wearing gloves. In addition, they believe the suicide note, which surfaced nearly two weeks after the soldier’s death, was not authored by Nazaryan himself, but was a shoddy shot at covering up his murder.

Nazaryan was found dead at an army outpost in the northeastern Tavush region on the border with Azerbaijan in July 2010. The military claimed the lieutenant had shot himself with a machine gun. A forensic examination revealed many injuries to his face, shoulders, hands, and feet, believed to have been inflicted hours before his death. The official account of his death says he was “induced to commit suicide.” Five fellow officers have been charged with the crime, but thus far, the trial has been a disappointment to his family and friends.

“Unfortunately, justice has not been served,” Tsovinar Nazaryan told the Weekly. Her brother would have turned 33 this year. Still, she holds out hope that the protests will at least prevent another soldier from falling victim to abuse. “We are determined to fight against violence and corruption in the army. The rights of each human being must be guaranteed, and the government must take productive steps for that.”

“With the Silent Rally we remembered those who fell victim to the corrupt and violent actions of their fellow servicemen,” she added. “We wanted to raise public awareness about the problems that are salient in the army.”

"It was my personal protest against the reality in Armenia's 20-year-old army." (Photo by Christina Harutyunyan)

Late in the evening of Jan. 28, some 1,600 miles away, Christina Harutyunyan, 32, stood before the outer walls of the Armenian Embassy in Prague, a candle in her hand. She and husband Andrew Mann had brought with them two candles, a list of names belonging to soldiers believed to have been killed by fellow officers in the army.

“It was my personal protest against the reality in Armenia’s 20-year-old army; my show of respect to the soldiers who died during peace; and my solidarity to their relatives who can’t reach simple truth and justice,” Harutyunyan told the Weekly.

“I don’t want a soldier to die from chickenpox in the 21st century,” she said, in reference to a recent case of army neglect, where 18-year-old Haik Khachatryan died from the virus.

Harutyunyan, who began participating in actions organized by “The Army in Reality” before her recent move to Prague, says she wants to see an end to army abuses, murders, and cover-ups. She also wishes authorities would “understand their guilt,” and initiate lasting changes.

“I want all the perpetrators punished, regardless of their position and rank. Look at all the ‘suicide’ cases and the court processes. Isn’t it possible to open at least one case?” she asked, outraged. “There is no time for ostrich policy.”

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  1. AraK said:

    For three thousand years and more our forefathers fought and died to keep Armenia and her nation alive. Today a bunch of criminal oligarchs with the benediction of our spineless church are bleeding and slowly suffocating our country to fill their pockets with blood money. Sometimes I have more respects to the Turks than to our own government. Amot mezi!

  2. Avetis said:

    Although there still are some problems, service conditions in the military has been improving greatly in recent years. That is what’s important. These types of incidents (incidents that are quite common in all armies around the world) are being politically exploited by Washington-based/funded “NGOs”, “rights activists” and “independent journalists” for use against Armenia. We all know that Armenia has sociopolitical problems, as do all nation’s on God’s earth. But this stuff has gone way beyond merely fighting corruption. These types of stories are in fact being used as part of the active information war against Armenia. Shock articles like this are meant to bring out the worst in us. Imperial interests are using various subversive individuals and agencies to spread anger, hopelessness and despair throughout Armenian society. Naturally, their excuse is always to raise “awareness” or “fight corruption”. But the result is always the further alienation of an already alienated diaspora and the sowing of hopelessness and despair in an already depressed Armenia. Their intent is to break the Armenian spirit, after which they will break the Armenian nation. Armenia is going through natural growing pains. When addressing these types of matters, well meaning Armenian activists need to keep the fight in Armenia, they need to keep the fight against individuals (not the government) and they need to keep the fight free of individuals and organizations connected to the political West. In other words, fight the thugs in Armenia without fighting for the thugs in Washington.

  3. Arman said:

    The Army is a reflection of that society…..the Defense Minister put it well, when he said that it is their duty to stop ‘street behavior’ and hooliganism from making its way in the Army. Like a parasite is carried by its host, hooliganism and barbarism are carried into the Army by the young, undisciplined 18 year old conscripts, who often watch TV shows glorifying criminal/mobster figures. No wonder as soon as two conscripts get into an argument, one ends up killing the other. Right now non-combat deaths are several times higher than combat losses. Disgraceful.

  4. Raffikian said:

    If the killings continue, who the hell is going to become a soldier, and who’s going to protect Armenia, UNBELIEVABLE

  5. Sylva-MD-Poetry said:

    We are all with you
    All the Armenians and
    all who those feel as a human
    and know the right of humanity must exist
    We are all with you
    This is another gene killing
    Shame on those who did it…
    Still such men could exist…!


  6. ashot said:

    thnx for giving the enemy propaganda…we dont need turks or azeris to whipe us out…we are self defeating enough to do it ourselves were at war people things happen during war…people die…get over it

  7. E.R. said:

    “Panagn Iraganum” is not in Armenian, the correct Armenian is “Banakn Irakanum”

  8. Harutik said:

    I agree with Avetis and Ashot.

    The Armenian military is the finest in the south Caucasus; man-for-man, it’s even better than the militaries of Turks and Iranians. The bad stuff that happens in the Armenian military pales in actually in comparison to what occurs in neighboring militaries. The fact is that Armenia’s armed forces have been improving greatly under Sargsyan’s and Ohanyan’s leadership. Yes, there are problems but things are improving fast. Our military is truly something to be proud about.

    Asbarez, Armenian Weekly; please stop spreading hysteria and hate towards our embattled and fledgling state. With these kinds of negative propaganda and half truths you are hurting the nation. Our masses (already on the verge of assimilation) are not capable of assessing/understanding this type of information in a positive or constructive manner. Major powers in the world are preparing for a international war in the region, this is not time mindlessly washing our dirty laundry here on the shores of the American empire.

    I’m really trying to figure out who or what runs Asbarez and Armenian Weekly…

  9. bigmoustache said:

    armenians who rob from their people, beat up and kill their own people should be lined up against the wall and taken care of bourj hammoud style

  10. Avetis said:

    We have seen enough Armenians killing/robbing Armenians in that third world slum called Bourj Hammoud”.