Yet another Armenian soldier has been shot dead in non-combat circumstances, the Defense Ministry in Yerevan said on Friday.
The ministry’s Investigative Service told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Junior Sergeant Robert Avetisian was found dead early on Thursday at his military base in the northeastern Chambarak district bordering Azerbaijan. It said a criminal investigation has been launched under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with premeditated murder.
The Investigative Service gave no further details. An official there said only that Avetisian’s body was promptly transported to Yerevan for a forensic examination. The military investigators did not report any arrests among local military personnel.
Avetisian’s hometown of Armavir, meanwhile, was rife with rumors that the 23-year-old conscript was killed in a dispute with fellow soldiers. Local residents who knew Avetisian personally said he was not known for violent conduct before being drafted into the armed forces one year ago. “I’ve never seen him fight,” one man told RFE/RL.
The incident is a serious blow to Defense Seyran Ohanian’s repeated assurances that the Armenian military has stepped up its fight against hazing and other abuses within its ranks. The military has come under public fire following a recent spate of non-combat deaths and other violent incidents. Dozens of officers and soldiers have been arrested or fired in connection with those cases since August.
Ohanian insisted on Wednesday that army crime has considerably declined since the late 1990s. He also reaffirmed his pledges to make the armed forces more transparent to the public.
In what appears to be a related development, the Defense Ministry announced on Friday that army conscripts will now be allowed to possess mobile phones and use them during a particular time of the day to be determined by their commanders. A ministry statement said that under an agreement reached with Armenia’s two leading wireless operators, soldiers will not be charged for outgoing phone calls to their relatives and friends.