By Emil Danielyan
Official Yerevan stepped up its hitherto timid pressure on Moscow to prevent further racist killings of ethnic Armenian residents of Russia, with President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian raising the issue with a visiting senior Kremlin insider on Friday.
The two men told President Vladimir Putin’s representative to southern Russia, Dmitry Kozak, that they expect tougher action against Russian neo-Nazi groups responsible for the increasingly serious violence, indicating their dissatisfaction with measures taken by the Russian authorities so far.
Kocharian said the Russian law-enforcement bodies, widely accused of inactivity and even connivance in the deadly attacks, should act in a more “quick, steadfast and understandable” manner. “The interlocutors condemned nationalist murders committed in Russia in recent months and noted that they do not stem from the interests of Russia and the Russian people,” his office said in a press release.
Markarian, for his part, urged Moscow to take “serious steps to identify and bring the guilty to justice as well as to avert more such incidents.”
At least six ethnic Armenians were beaten, stabbed or shot to death this year in a wave of xenophobic extremism targeting dark-skinned immigrants from the Caucasus, Central Asia and Africa that has plagued Russia. The Russian authorities’ failure to solve the vast majority of those crimes has is increasingly raising eyebrows in Armenia, contributing to the erosion of a traditionally strong pro-Russian sentiment there.
The Armenian government has been attacked by local civic groups, opposition parties and prominent intellectuals for its reluctance to bring the Kremlin to task. Kocharian’s and Markarian’s remarks were apparently Yerevan’s first high-level criticism of Moscow’s handling of the violence. They came the day after an official announcement that senior diplomats from the two countries will hold a special meeting in the Russian capital on the issue later this month.
According to Markarian’s press service, while condemning the racists murders, Kozak said that “they are not specifically directed against Armenians” and that “the Russian authorities are doing everything to solve and rule out such crimes.” He also cited a “good treatment” of hundreds of thousands of Armenians living in Russia’s southern regions.
However, reports of vandals desecrating Armenian churches and cemeteries in the area have not been uncommon in recent years, and at least one of the local governors, Aleksandr Tkachev of the Krasnodar Region, has irked Armenian community leaders and Russian human rights activists in the past with xenophobic statements.
Kozak, who was accompanied by Russian regional officials, also discussed with the Armenian leaders economic cooperation between Armenia and southern Russia. Kocharian and Markarian pointed to the persisting high transportation costs involved in bilateral trade, with the latter urging the Russians to do more to restore rail communication between Russia and Armenia via Georgia.
Kocharian was quoted by his press office as noting with satisfaction that the lack of “efficient transport communication” between the two countries does not prevent Russian companies from “playing an increasingly large role” in the Armenian economy.
(Photolur photo: Kozak meeting with Kocharian.)