Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, on Tuesday denied any ethnic discrimination by Russian law-enforcement authorities of an Armenian man who caused a fatal bus crash near Moscow this month.
Andreasian also criticized some of the angry reactions to what many in Armenia see as the humiliating and xenophobic treatment of Hrachya Harutiunian, the driver of a truck that collided with a bus on July 13, killing 18 people and injuring more than 30 others. “I think that from the viewpoint of millions of Armenians it is very dangerous to turn this incident into a Russian-Armenian ethnic conflict,” he told a news conference.
Andreasian met the press one day after visiting Moscow and meeting Harutiunian in a prison hospital. He said the 46-year-old Armenian national is still unable to give testimony, having not recovered from injuries sustained in the shock crash.
A visibly shocked Harutiunian was made to wear a woman’s hospital robe when he appeared before a Moscow court last week. Russian state television emphasized his nationality in its reports on the tragedy.
The driver’s wretched appearance led to a barrage of criticism from Armenian state officials, opposition and civic figures and especially the media. The Russian TV images also triggered angry protests outside the Russian Embassy in Yerevan.
The embassy accused “certain individuals” of exploiting the affair to whip up anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia, while the Russian Foreign Ministry signaled concerns about the outcry’s possible damage to Russian-Armenian relations. Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin discussed the matter with Oleg Yesayan, the Armenian ambassador to Russia, on Friday.
Andreasian said he believes that Russian investigators are not discriminating against Harutiunian because of his nationality. “If it was a negligent or corrupt healthcare worker who didn’t understand what they are doing or understood their outrageous actions, I think that the Russian authorities will react to that adequately,” he said of the scandalous court incident.
The ombudsman also criticized the reaction of some of the Armenians angered by the televised images. “I think that some individuals here unfairly ridiculed representatives of the Russian government and offended the [Russian] state instead of concentrating on the actions of some law-enforcement officials,” he said.
Harutiunian, who reportedly migrated to Russia early this year to support his impoverished family in Armenia, is facing up to seven years in prison on charges of causing multiple deaths through violating traffic rules. There have been suggestions in both Russia and Armenia that his apparently faulty and old truck, owned by a still unknown company, was primarily responsible for the loss of life.
Andreasian confirmed that Harutiunian’s three lawyers hired by Ara Abrahamian, a leader of Russia’s sizable Armenian community, will put the emphasis on the truck’s poor technical condition in their defense of the arrested man.