GYUMRI, Armenia (RFE/RL)—A Russian parliamentary delegation on Friday visited Gyumri and laid flowers on the fresh graves of the seven members of a local Armenian family who died in a killing spree blamed on a Russian soldier.
The three pro-Kremlin members of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, paid their respects to the Avetisian family one week after unprecedented anti-Russian protests attended by scores of local residents. Moscow has since been trying to minimize political fallout from the January 12 massacre that has cast a shadow over its close ties with Yerevan.
The visiting parliamentarians echoed Russian law-enforcement officials’ pledges to solve the brutal crime jointly with their Armenian colleagues. “This is a tragedy not only for the Armenian people but also for the Russian people,” Oleg Lebedev, a senior lawmaker heading the Duma delegation, told reporters at the Gyumri cemetery.
“Unfortunately, this monstrous crime could become the kind of a stumbling block [in Russian-Armenian relations] which you just mentioned. But I am sure that this will not happen,” he said.
Lebedev announced that the Russian and Armenian parliaments have agreed to set up a joint working group that will monitor ongoing investigations into the killings conducted and supposedly coordinated by law-enforcers from the two countries. “We will be as open and transparent as possible,” he said. “We will be meeting and briefing you on the results of the investigation.”
Lebedev was also asked about Gyumri citizens’ demands for Valery Permyakov, the murder suspect kept in Russian military custody, to be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities or at least be tried in an Armenian court. “An investigation is underway and nobody has the right to interfere in it,” he said. “This is a legal requirement in both Armenia and Russia. The investigation will detect facts and certain decisions will be made as a result.”
Lebedev, who was accompanied by senior Armenian parliament deputies, at the same time reaffirmed Russian assurances that Permyakov will stand trial in Armenia, RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) reported.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated earlier this week that the 18-year-old conscript will appear before a Russian military tribunal located in Yerevan. Organizers of the Gyumri protests have rejected this option, insisting that the high-profile case be heard by an Armenian court.
Lebedev further said that he and his colleagues will petition the Russian government and military to avoid sending conscripts to Russian military bases abroad from now on. He said they believe that only contract soldiers should serve there after undergoing special training.