Military authorities in Armenia were investigating on Monday yet another death of a soldier in non-combat circumstances that was reported over the weekend.
According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, Gabriel Lalazarian, a 19-year-old conscript, was found hanging at his army unit stationed in the southern Armavir province.
The ministry’s Investigative Department launched a criminal inquiry under a Criminal Code article dealing with abusive actions that prompt servicemen to commit suicide. It reported no arrests by Monday evening.
A ministry spokesman declined to clarify whether the investigators are also looking into other theories of the soldier’s death.
Lalazarian was born and raised in a village in southeastern Syunik province. The village mayor, Tigran Khachatrian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that he is not known to have complained to relatives about his military service.
Artur Sakunts, a human rights activists monitoring army crimes, cast doubt on the credibility of the preliminary official theory, saying that the military has routinely portrayed murders as suicide before. “We will examine and collect data on the case,” he said.
Lalazarian was found dead just one week after Armenian military prosecutors set up a special task force charged with looking into chronic non-combat deaths in the army ranks. It comprises not only law-enforcement and military officers but also civil society activists, including Sakunts.
The Armenian military claims to have significantly toughened in recent years its crackdown on hazing and other abuses that lead to soldier deaths. It says the number of such fatalities has been steadily decreasing. Activists like Sakunts insist, however, that the military and law-enforcement bodies are still not doing enough to tackle the problem.