By Narine Ghalechian and Ruben Meloyan
About a hundred student activists staged on Wednesday a rare demonstration outside the Russian embassy in Yerevan to protest continuing racially motivated attacks on Armenians in Russia.
Chanting “No to Russian fascism,” the protesters, most of them members of the student wing of a small Armenian party, demanded that Russian authorities crack down on neo-Nazi skinheads widely blamed for endemic violence against darker-skinned people living in Russia.
The protest followed the January 19 killing in Russia of yet another ethnic Armenian teenager. The 14-year-old Artur Martirosian was stabbed to death near his family’s Moscow apartment. Russian law-enforcement authorities have reportedly denied racist motives behind the killing, adding to Armenian concerns about their willingness to tackle hate crimes.
“If similar incidents happen again and if Russian officials blame them on social disputes we will hold a sit-in here and will do everything to hinder the work of the Russian embassy,” said Narek Galstian, a student leader who led the Yerevan protest. “People keep getting killed just because they are Armenians.”
According to Russian anti-racism organizations, at least seven Armenians and ethnic Armenian citizens of Russia were killed last year by ultranationalist groups openly operating in Moscow and other big cities. Faced with growing domestic pressure, the Armenian government began to raise the issue with Russian authorities. Visiting Moscow last November, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian urged them to admit the “ethnic character” of such crimes and said failure to solve them would be “fraught with negative consequences” for Russian-Armenian ties.
Gagik Yeganian, head of the Armenian government’s Department on Migration and Refugees, described the problem as “very worrisome” on Wednesday. “Of course, that is a serious problem,” he said. “But the phenomenon is not specifically anti-Armenian, it is directed at people of non-Slavic origin.”
Russia has been the prime destination of hundreds of thousands of Armenians that have gone abroad in search of employment since the early 1990s. Their cash remittances, estimated to have totaled about $1.5 billion in 2006, are a major source of income for a considerable part of the country’s population. According to Yeganian, Russia accounts for almost two thirds of travel to and from Armenia.