By Karine Kalantarian
Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev strongly disagreed on Wednesday with a growing perception in Armenia that his country has become a hotbed of racist violence against Armenians and other non-Slavic immigrants.
Speaking during a visit to Yerevan, Nurgaliev claimed that the number of Armenian nationals or ethnic Armenian citizens of Russians murdered for racist motives in recent month is grossly exaggerated by media and non-governmental organizations.
Russian human rights groups have reported at least six such killings this year. The most recent of those crimes, reported in late May, sparked a fresh outcry in Armenia, putting the Armenian government under greater pressure to raise the issue with Moscow. President Robert Kocharian called for tougher action against Russian neo-Nazi groups widely blamed for the racist attacks during a meeting with a visiting senior Kremlin official last week.
In a related development, a delegation of senior officials from the Armenian Foreign Ministry is scheduled to hold a special meeting on the issue with their Russian counterparts in Moscow on Thursday.
Nurgaliev made it clear, however, that the Russian law-enforcement authorities do not regard racist attacks on Armenians and other people from the Caucasus and Central Asia as a serious problem. He said the Russian police registered four killings of Armenian citizens during the first quarter of this year and has already solved two of them. He claimed that none of them was racially motivated.
“Investigators have not found any facts connected with ethnic disputes, religious or ethnic affiliation,” Nurgaliev told reporters. “There were mainly mercenary motives involved.” It is also not uncommon for Armenian residents of Russia to be murdered by their co-ethnics, he said.
Nurgaliev also expressed dismay at an unprecedented amount of anti-Russian rhetoric voiced by the Armenian press in recent months in connection with the reported hate crimes. “Many people are trying to drive a wedge between Armenia and Russia for political considerations,” he said.
The Russian minister was speaking at a brief joint news conference with his Armenian opposite number, Hayk Harutiunian, following a regular meeting of the leaderships of Armenia’s and Russia’s police services. Officials said that the meeting focused on a joint Russian-Armenian fight against economic crimes and illegal immigration, suggesting that the racist attacks were not on the agenda.
An official press release on Kocharian’s separate meeting with Nurgaliev also made no mention of the issue. Kocharian was instead quoted as praising the “effective cooperation of the Russian and Armenian law-enforcement bodies.”
(Photolur photo: Rashid Nurgaliev.)