Military authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the non-combat death of yet another Armenian soldier, which highlighted their continuing failure to root out chronic abuses within the army ranks.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry reported at the weekend that Aghasi Abrahamian, an 18-year-old conscript serving in an army unit near Nagorno-Karabakh, died shortly after being hospitalized with serious injuries late on Friday.
A ministry statement said that military investigators are now trying to establish the causes of Abrahamian’s death. It said they opened a criminal case under a Criminal Code clause dealing with involuntary manslaughters caused by beatings.
The ministry’s Investigative Department reported no arrests among military personnel as of Monday evening.
Abrahamian’s grief-stricken relatives insisted, meanwhile, that the conscript was beaten to death and that the investigators should treat the case as a deliberate murder.
“My boy was brutally beaten to death,” his mother Gayane told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in her Yerevan apartment where Abrahamian lay in state on Monday.
“I sent a healthy boy [to the army] and I expected to get back a healthy boy, not a dead body,” she cried.
Gayane Abrahamian added that she last spoke to her son by phone three days before his death. “He said he is fine but I didn’t like his mood,” she said.
Gevorg Sahakian, another relative who was present at Abrahamian’s post-mortem, said there were numerous injuries on the young man’s head, face and body. He also claimed to have seen what looked like a stab wound on the right side of Abrahamian’s abdomen.
According to the Defense Ministry, the soldier was unconscious when he was brought to a Karabakh military hospital.
The mysterious death came as another blow to the Armenian military’s assurances that it has stepped up its fight against violent army crime. The problem has had a greater public resonance in the past year.
Dozens of military personnel have been arrested, fired or demoted since August 2010. Still, human rights groups and families of dead soldiers continue to assert that the military authorities are not doing enough to tackle the problem.
According military prosecutors, 43 Armenian soldiers were killed by fellow servicemen, committed suicide or died in various accidents and as a result of illnesses last year. By comparison, 11 soldiers died in skirmishes with Azerbaijani troops.
There is no official data yet on the number of non-combat deaths in 2011. One Armenian human rights group has counted 20 such cases so far.
With official suicide theories routinely dismissed by victims’ families, there are also lingering questions about the objectivity and integrity of military investigations.
Vartan Sevian, another soldier, was found dead in his military unit in the southeastern Armenian town of Goris on August 19. Military officials claimed that he committed suicide after learning that his girlfriend had married another man.
But Sevian's mother and sister strongly reject that explanation, saying that Vartan did not have a girlfriend. They also say that he had complained of ill-treatment at the hands of an army officer.