By Artur Terian in Moscow
More than 20 Armenians were seriously injured in a town near Moscow where Russian mobs rampaged with impunity for several hours at the weekend, targeting anyone suspected of being Armenian, it emerged on Tuesday.
Eyewitnesses in Krasnoarmeisk, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of the capital, said scores of local youths armed with knives and metal sticks roamed the streets and conducted house-to-house searches as they looked for Armenians among its 27,000 residents. Those found to be Armenian were beaten up ruthlessly before being hospitalized with severe injuries.
Some of the assailants faced resistance as they tried to break into local Armenian homes. But greatly outnumbered by the thugs, most of the latter had to give in. The victims complained that their desperate calls for help were left unanswered by Russian police which stepped in only after the four-hour pogrom was over.
A spokesman for the regional police department has portrayed the violence as a drunken brawl between Armenian and Russian youths, denying that it was the latest in a spate of racist attacks registered in Russia over the past year.
Reports have said that the violence was sparked by an argument at a local bar late on Saturday when a 26-year-old Russian man was allegedly stabbed by Gairk Sahian, an Armenian national. Sahian, 43, was immediately arrested by police.
According to eyewitness accounts, the anti-Armenian rampage was started by several dozen friends of the injured man. The crowd grew bigger as the orgy of beatings and breaks-in progressed. Neo-Nazi skinheads, responsible for similar attacks elsewhere in Russia, were said to have been among the assailants.
Artur Galstian, a native of the Armenian town of Kapan, said he was walking in the street when several dozen Russians started to punch and kick him. “They didn’t say why they are beating me,” he told RFE/RL. “They just told me in the end to get out of here.”
Another Armenian man who asked not to be named said his car was surrounded by several other vehicles before he and his friends were hauled out of it and badly beaten. “They hit us with sticks,” he said.
Local Armenians said more than 20 members of their community sustained heavy injuries during the attack. Eight of them were hospitalized in a critical condition. Only two persons have been arrested in connection with the unprecedented violence, officials in Krasnoarmeisk said.
The pogrom near Moscow was the most serious of recent racially motivated attacks on Armenians across Russia. The focal point of anti-Armenian sentiment has until now been the southern Krasnodar region where authorities announced last spring plans to expel hundreds of thousands of Armenians and other dark-skinned people from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Ethnic tensions there came to a head on April 18 when the Armenian cemetery in Krasnodar was vandalized by unknown thugs. Armenian and Russian officials have since been trying to defuse the situation.
There has been no reaction yet to the weekend pogrom from official Yerevan.
In Krasnoarmeisk, meanwhile, some middle-aged residents expressed their shock and anger at what happened there. But there was little sympathy for the attack victims among the town’s younger residents. One of them said: “I basically agree with that our guys did. They (Armenians) should beaten and thrown out of here.”