Russian law-enforcement officials have assured Armenian diplomats that they did not mean to humiliate an Armenian migrant worker who was paraded on Russian television after causing a deadly bus crash near Moscow late last week.
Officials from the Armenian Embassy in Russia visited the arrested truck driver, Hrachya Harutiunian, on Wednesday amid an outcry in Armenia against what many there view as his degrading treatment by the Russian police.
An old truck driven by Harutiunian rammed into a commuter bus outside Moscow in still unclear circumstances on Saturday, killing 18 people and injuring at least 25 others. Russian TV channels showed the 46-year-old Armenian citizen appearing before a Moscow court on Monday in a woman’s housecoat and in an apparent state of shock to face to accusations of causing multiple deaths through violating traffic rules. Some of them emphasized his ethnic origin in their coverage of the tragedy.
The images caused outrage in Armenia. Senior pro-government lawmakers, opposition politicians, the media and ordinary people accused the Russian authorities of fanning anti-Armenian xenophobia.
The Armenian Embassy in Moscow also deplored Harutiunian’s treatment. “The embassy believes that relevant bodies and officials were obliged to ensure the suspect’s proper appearance in the court,” its spokesman, Eduard Jambazian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am)
“In meetings [with Russian officials] we expressed our concerns,” Jambazian said. “Everybody agrees with us. They insist that that was not done intentionally and was the result of haste.”
Harutiunian’s defense lawyer, Aleksandr Meltsev, said doctors at a Moscow hospital told him that the suspect was given a robe because his clothes were torn up after he was hospitalized and treated by them. “The relevant police officials should have applied to us. We would have brought him new clothes in half an hour. That was negligence on the part of the police unit and the hospital staff,” he said.
Meltsev agreed that his client’s wretched appearance in the courtroom violated his dignity. The lawyer told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that he has lodged complaints against the Moscow police and health authorities.
Armenian law-enforcement authorities, meanwhile, made clear on Thursday they will not petition their Russian counterparts in connection with the high-profile case. Both the Office of the Prosecutor-General and the Justice Ministry said they see no need to intervene in the proceedings at this point. The ministry spokeswoman, Karine Kalantarian, also said that Yerevan could ask the Russian authorities to let Harutiunian serve his prison sentence in Armenia if he is convicted by a Russian court.
The Russian authorities’ treatment of Harutiunian triggered an outpouring of sympathy for the driver in Armenia, which was reinforced by the newly disclosed fact that he is a veteran of the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. Harutiunian’s relatives say that he moved to Russia earlier this year to earn money for a tombstone for his 20-year-old son who died of brain tumor a year ago.
Hundreds of thousands of other Armenians have similarly emigrated to Russia since the 1990s in search of employment.