Military prosecutors reported on Thursday another sharp decrease in the number of Armenian soldiers dying in non-combat circumstances, attributing it to a crackdown on army abuses.
Armenia’s chief military prosecutor, Gevorg Kostanian, said the total number of murders and other incidents resulting in soldier deaths shrunk by half in 2012. Kostanian reported 20 such crimes but did not specify the number of resulting fatalities.
According to official data, 26 soldiers committed suicide, were killed by fellow servicemen and died from diseases or in various accidents in 2011, down from 43 such cases reported in 2010.
Kostanian said the downward trend is the result of “systematic efforts” by the Armenian Defense Ministry and military prosecutors to tackle hazing and other abuses in the army ranks.
The military and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian in particular promised a tougher crackdown on such practices as the chronic problem gained a greater public resonance in 2010. Dozens of military personnel have been arrested, fired or demoted since then.
However, civic activists monitoring army crimes insist that the military authorities are still not doing enough. In particular, they are accused of portraying murders as suicides.
Artur Sakunts, a human rights campaigner, claimed on Thursday that the number of army deaths actually rose last year. “There is a substantial discrepancy [with official figures] because state bodies clearly tend to cover up many crimes and paint a much rosier picture,” Sakunts told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
One alleged instance of cover-up is the July 2010 death of Artak Nazarian, an army lieutenant who served in the northeastern Tavush province. The military investigators say she shot himself after being systematically mistreated by fellow officers and soldiers. Several of them are currently standing trial on corresponding charges.
Nazarian’s relatives believe that the 30-year-old was murdered. They and their lawyers have denounced the ongoing trial as a sham.