GYUMRI, Armenia (RFE/RL)—Russia has officially reaffirmed its refusal to extradite to Armenia a Russian soldier accused of murdering the seven members of an Armenian family in Gyumri earlier this year.
In a letter publicized on Tuesday by the opposition Zharangutyun party, a senior official from the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office said that the conscript, Valery Permyakov, is “not subject to handover” to Armenian law-enforcement authorities. He cited Article 61 of Russia’s constitution which prohibits the extradition to foreign states of Russian citizens charged with crimes.
The official also argued that Russian and Armenian investigators are “closely cooperating” in their ongoing separate inquiries into the January 12 massacre that caused shock and outrage in Armenia.
The letter was an official response to a written petition which Zaruhi Postanjian, a Zharangutyun parliamentarian, sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly after six members of the Avetisian family were shot dead in their Gyumri home. The seventh family member, a 6-month-old baby boy, died of his stab injuries a week later.
Echoing the demands of many Armenians and Gyumri residents in particular, Postanjian petitioned Putin to ensure that Permyakov is transferred to Armenian jurisdiction. Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian sent a similar letter to his Russian counterpart, Yury Chayka, in early February.
Chayka’s office said on February 20 that Kostanian’s appeal is being “considered.” Its written reply to Postanjian dated February 16 suggests that the Russian authorities remain unwilling to hand over Permyakov.
The 18-year-old suspect has been kept at the Gyumri headquarters of the Russian military base in Armenia ever since the gruesome killings. Scores of Gyumri citizens took to the streets of Armenia’s second largest city on January 14-15 to demand his handover. Some of them clashed with riot police near the local Russian consulate.
Non-partisan organizers of those demonstrations have pledged to stage more street protests if Moscow remains adamant about keeping custody of Permyakov and prosecuting him under Russian law. “The issue is an extraordinary one and the solution to it must be just as extraordinary,” one of them, Armen Nersisian, said on Tuesday. “I believe that the issue is on the political, rather than legal, plane.”
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Nersisian dismissed the references to the Russian constitution. He pointed to a 1997 Russian-Armenian treaty regulating Russian military presence in Armenia.
The treaty stipulates that Russian military personnel charged with crimes committed outside their installations shall be prosecuted by Armenian authorities. It requires Russian investigators to deal with offenses happening within the military base.