YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Russia says a soldier accused of killing seven members of a single family in Armenia will be tried on Armenian soil, but media reports say the trial will be conducted by a Russian military court, RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) reports.
The Jan. 20 announcement is unlikely to appease protesters who have demanded the suspect in an attack that stunned the country be transferred to Armenian custody and tried by Armenian courts.
Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said the investigation and criminal proceedings against suspect Valery Permyakov “will be held exclusively on Armenian soil.”
However, he said that the proceedings will be conducted in accordance with international law, Russian legislation, and agreements between Russia and Armenia governing Russia’s military base in the city of Gyumri, where Permyakov was stationed and is now being held.
Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and the Kavkaz-uzel.ru website, citing Armenian government sources, said the trial would be conducted by a Russian military court in Armenia.
Authorities say Permyakov has confessed to the killings, which sparked angry protests last week in Yerevan and Gyumri by Armenians demanding he be transferred to Armenian custody, Azatutyun.am reports.
Russian authorities have said that according to the Russian Constitution, Russian citizens suspected of committing crimes in other countries cannot be extradited to such countries — a policy President Vladimir Putin has described in other circumstances by saying that Russia does not “give up its own.”
The Investigative Committee’s announcement coincided with a candle-lighting ceremony commemorating Seryozha Avetisian, a 6-month-old boy who was stabbed in the attack and died in a Yerevan hospital on Jan. 19.
He had been the sole survivor of the attack: His parents, 2-year-old sister, aunt, and grandparents were found dead in their home in Gyumri on Jan. 12.
Both Russian and Armenian officials have made soothing statements in an effort to ensure it does not threaten their ties or lead to large-scale street protests in Armenia.
In a telephone conversation with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian on Jan. 18, Putin expressed his condolences to the Avetisians’ relatives and the Armenian nation and promised a swift investigation and appropriate punishment for the massacre.
The killings are testing ties between Russia and Armenia, which has just joined the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union and hosts the base that is Moscow’s biggest foothold in the strategic South Caucasus.
For Armenia, which is flanked by longtime foes Azerbaijan and Turkey, regional giant Russia is a potential protector and a trade partner. But government opponents and other Armenians chafe at Moscow’s powerful influence over the small, poor, landlocked country.
After the attack, for which no possible motive has been publicly revealed, Permyakov was detained by a Russian border-guard unit at the Armenian-Turkish border, according to Azatutyun.am.
Russian media reports quoted a Russian Armed Forces General Staff official on Jan. 20 as saying that conscripts — like Permyakov — will no longer be stationed at the Gyumri base as of 2016.
Instead, only military personnel serving on contractual basis will be stationed there, according to the report, which said the change had been planned before the killings in Gyumri.
Russia, Armenia to Jointly Investigate
An investigation against Permyakov, and an ensuing trial, will be conducted in Armenia, according to the Russian Investigative Committee, Public Radio of Armenia (ArmRadio.am) reports.
“The criminal inquiry and all procedural measures connected with it will abide by the norms of international law, the January 22, 1993 Convention on Legal Aid and Legal Relations in Civil, Family and Criminal Cases, the March 16, 1995 Treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia concerning the presence of a Russian military base in the territory of Armenia, as well as the Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia on judicial and mutual legal assistance in issues linked with the presence of the Russian military base in the territory of Republic of Armenia, dated August 29, 1997,” the Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said.
“Today, the heads of the two countries’ Investigative Committees also met with President of Armenia Serzh Sarkisian and informed him of the course of this joint inquiry. They assured him that the person guilty of this cruel murder would be punished with the utmost vigor of the law,” Markin said.
The municipality of Gyumri announced its support for an investigation against Permyakov by Armenian authorities, calling on Armenian Prosecutor General Gevorg Kostanyan to request that the case be transferred to Armenian law-enforcement bodies, but stopping short of demanding that Permyakov be tried by Armenian courts, according to Armenia Now.
In a statement on Jan. 20, the Gyumri municipality said: “Gyumri residents and the entire Armenian nation are shaken by the horrible tragedy that happened to the Avetisyan family on January 12, 2015. The tragedy caused legitimate indignation of city residents. The tension among the population has not declined. This is fraught with grave consequences, which we have witnessed in recent days. We are sure steps are needed to reduce tension.”
Public Funeral to Be Held for Infant
A public funeral service for six-month-old Seryozh Avetisyan will be held in Gyumri on Wednesday, ArmRadio reports. A memorial service for the infant was held on Tuesday at Gyumri’s St. Nshan Church.
The infant died in hospital on Sunday after having initially survived the attack. He was the only member of the family who was found alive at the scene, despite having received multiple stab wounds. The infant was transferred to a Yerevan hospital where he received brain surgery. Despite what doctors called a successful surgery, the baby did not survive.
Authorities are preparing for more protests in Gyumri to follow the infant’s funeral.