One officer and six soldiers have been arrested in connection with the latest non-combat death in the Armenian army ranks, the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
A ministry statement said they are suspected of systematically beating and humiliating Samvel Khachatrian, a 18-year-old army conscript who was founded hanged in the basement of his military unit on October 3. It added that they are facing criminal charges that carry between three and eight years’ imprisonment.
None of the suspects has been identified yet. The ministry statement said only that one of them is the commander of an artillery battery where Khachatrian served until his death.
It is not yet clear whether military investigators believe that the soldier was murdered by fellow servicemen or committed suicide because of ill-treatment. Defense Ministry spokesman Mushegh Aghekian declined to comment on this.
“All theories are being considered,” Gegham Harutiunian, an adviser to Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The investigation will show whether what happened was a murder or suicide.”
“They must clarify whether this was a murder presented as a suicide,” said Artur Sakunts, a human rights campaigner monitoring army crime “Descriptions of the incident do not give one grounds to think that it was a suicide.”
Khachatrian’s parents have likewise suggested that the young man is unlikely to have hanged himself. His death was the latest in a spate of grave incidents reported in the country’s armed forces.
Four other servicemen, including an army captain, are currently under arrest pending trial on charges of ill-treating a junior officer who military investigators say committed suicide in late July. Relatives of Lieutenant Artak Nazarian believe, however, that he was murdered.
Nazarian’s death was followed by the fatal shooting of six soldiers at another army unit. Eight senior and mid-level officers were dismissed and more than a dozen others demoted as a result. Ohanian publicly lambasted them and pledged to crack down on such crimes.
Military investigators also identified and arrested late last month an army major believed to have abused soldiers in a scandalous video posted on the Internet. If convicted, he will risk between two and five years in prison.