Military authorities in Armenia faced allegations of cover-up on Thursday after it emerged that two army soldiers arrested in connection with last week’s fatal shooting of a fellow conscript have been charged with negligence, rather than murder.
Junior Sergeant Robert Avetisian was found riddled with bullets early November 18 at his military base in northeastern Armenia in still unclear circumstances.
Military investigators promptly opened a criminal case on the non-combat death under a under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with premeditated murder. The two other soldiers were detained in the following days.
The Defense Ministry’s Investigative Department holding the probe announced on Thursday that they have been formally charged with negligent conduct that violated the Armenian military’s rules governing sentry duty. An official at the department told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that they both were on such duty on the night of Avetisian’s death.
The official would not be drawn on why the investigators think they shot the 23-year-old university graduate. The accusation leveled against the arrested soldiers carries up to four years in prison.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Avetisian’s relatives dismissed the official theory. “I absolutely do not agree with that theory because my boy was deliberately murdered,” said his father, Gurgen Avetisian.
Both Gurgen Avetisian and his brother stressed that according to military officials, Robert was gunned down shortly after walking out of his unit’s infirmary, where he spent the last days of his life recovering from an illness.
“A mature person who has graduated from a university and already served in the army for more than a year would not have left the medical room at 1 o’clock in the morning without a serious reason,” argued Robert’s uncle. “There must have been a serious reason. Let them investigate that.”
Artur Sakunts, a human rights campaigner monitoring army crime, echoed their arguments and suggested that the military authorities are not intent on solving the murder. He noted that none of the unit’s commanders is facing prosecution. “This seems to be a form of cover-up,” Sakunts told RFE/RL.