By Ruzanna Stepanian
The parents of three Armenian soldiers controversially charged with murdering two other conscripts three years ago picketed the Office of the Prosecutor-General on Friday, alleging a continuing a high-level cover-up of the mysterious crime.
They said law-enforcement authorities are refusing to investigate reported torture and other gross violations of due process that characterized the botched criminal investigation into the violent deaths of Roman Yeghizarian and Hovsep Mkrtumian.
The bodies of the two soldiers were found in the Sarsang reservoir in northern Nagorno-Karabakh in January 2004. Three of their comrades were subsequently arrested and charged with the killings. Ignoring their strong protestations of innocence, a court in Stepanakert sentenced Razmik Sargsian, Musa Serobian, and Arayik Zalian to 15 years in prison in 2005. An Armenian appeals court extended the extremely controversial sentence to life imprisonment in May last year, a move condemned by local and international human rights groups.
The higher Court of Cassation unexpectedly overturned the ruling last December, releasing the suspects and ordering a fresh criminal inquiry. Armenia’s highest body of criminal justice said military prosecutors failed to substantiate their accusations and committed serious violations of due process.
The case against the three young men was essentially based on an April 2004 “confession” made by one of them, Razmik Sargsian. The latter retracted the testimony shortly afterwards, saying that it was extracted by force. The two other soldiers also claim to have been badly ill-treated in custody. The Court of Cassation faulted the lower courts for refusing to investigate the torture claims.
Despite repeated demands by defense lawyers, none of the law-enforcement officers involved in the probe has been placed under investigation. Instead, military prosecutors again questioned Sargsian, Serobian and Zalian last month, refusing to drop the charges leveled against them.
The suspects’ parents, joined by human rights activists and the mother of one of the murdered soldiers, angrily protested against this fact outside the prosecutors’ headquarters in Yerevan. They were particularly furious with Deputy Prosecutor-General Gagik Jahangirian, who oversaw the inquiry in his previous capacity as Armenia’s chief military prosecutor. Sargsian claims that Jahangirian personally beat him in his office.
“Jahangirian criminal!” chanted the small crowd. “The real culprits remain at large because of Jahangirian,” said Serobian’s mother Marine. “We want all those people who have ruined the health of our children to be brought to justice,” she added. “What have the boys suffered for during almost three years?”
Sargsian, who went on a prolonged hunger strike in late 2005, is said to be in particularly poor health. According to his mother, he suffers from tuberculosis and has a brain tumor. “They’ve made my son sick,” Julietta Sargsian told RFE/RL. “We call an ambulance every week.”
Speaking to RFE/RL on February 28, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General said the already demobilized soldiers might again be put on trial on the same charges. Sona Truzian emphasized the fact that they were not formally acquitted by the Court of Cassation and technically remain the sole suspects in the case.