By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A delegation of senior Armenian diplomats will fly to Moscow on June 29 to discuss with their Russian counterparts ways of stopping racially motivated killings of Armenians in Russia, Deputy Foreign Minister Gegham Gharibjanian said on Thursday.
Gharibjanian, who will head the delegation, admitted that the Armenian government has been “a bit late” in raising the matter with the Russian authorities, but said it is now “working consistently” to help to halt such killings.
“Not only we but the Russian authorities are concerned about the problem,” Gharibjanian told RFE/RL. “I think that from now on such discussions and exchanges of such concerns will be a continuous process.”
The Armenian government has come under domestic fire over its apparent reluctance to publicly criticize the Russian authorities that are widely held responsible for vicious xenophobic violence against dark-skinned immigrants from the Caucasus, Central Asia and Africa which is becoming endemic in Russia. At least six Armenians were reportedly killed by neo-Nazi skinheads in various parts of the vast country this year alone.
The most recent of those killings sparked fresh public fury in Armenia, with several local non-governmental organizations staging a protest outside the Russian embassy in Yerevan on June 5. Moscow also faced a rare public condemnation by some of Armenia’s most prominent intellectuals that have traditionally been sympathetic to the Russian state.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion in Yerevan earlier this week, the chairman of the Writers Union of Armenia, Levon Ananian, decried what he described as a deadly “hunt for Armenians” going on in Russia.
Gharibjanian shrugged off the accusation. “I think that Mr. Ananian did not behave in a correct manner,” he said. “The chairman of the Writers Union should be preoccupied with other issues.”
Gharibjanian insisted that the racist killings are an inevitable result of an influx of impoverished immigrants to Russia and denied the existence of strong anti-Armenian sentiment among the Russians. “Just a few days ago, three Armenians became members of Russia’s Academy of Sciences, while another Armenian received the title of national hero of Russia,” he said. “So I don’t agree with the view that all this is directed against Armenians.”
Agence France Presse quoted Galina Kozhevnikova of the Moscow-based anti-racism Sova Center as saying on Wednesday that ethnic hatred motivated 18 murders and 129 attacks in the country this year. She said 10 of those murders were committed in Moscow and four more in Russia's second largest city, Saint Petersburg. Sova reported 28 such deaths last year.
Few of the perpetrators of those killings have been arrested and brought to justice. Human rights activists say Russian law-enforcement agencies and courts have so far failed to crack down skinhead groups that operate in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and other parts of the country in a climate of near-impunity.
(Armenian Foreign Ministry photo: Gegham Gharibjanian.)