A runaway Russian soldier admitted murdering six members of an Armenian family in Gyumri after being detained overnight, a senior Armenian police official said on Tuesday.
Hunan Poghosian, a deputy chief of the national police, shed little light on Valery Permyakov’s possible motives and gave few other details of his questioning by Armenian and Russian investigators.
Armenian prosecutors announced, meanwhile, that Russia will have custody of Permyakov at least until the end of a criminal investigation into the gruesome crime. It remained unclear, however, whether the pre-trial probe will be conducted by Armenian or Russian security bodies.
“In terms of information subject to publication, [Permyakov] deserted his military post with an assault rifle and two loaded magazines,” Poghosian told a news conference in Gyumri. “He claims that he wanted to stroll around the city and entered that house by accident, without knowing whether or not there are people inside it.”
Poghosian, who led a manhunt for the Siberian conscript on Monday, would not say what led him to shoot and kill a Gyumri couple, their son and daughter-in-law, a 2-year-old granddaughter, and an unmarried daughter. The couple's six-month-old grandson was stabbed but survived. The police general said only that Permyakov most probably did not personally know any of the slain members of the Avetisian family.
The Avetisians’ modest house is located around 2 kilometers from the Russian military base in Gyumri where the shooting-spree suspect had served for less than two months.
One of their neighbors, Manvel Yeghiazarian, described the victims as “very quiet, kind and hard-working people” who “never caused trouble.” “We just don’t know why it happened,” the middle-aged man told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Like other neighbors, Yeghiazarian insisted that he heard no gunshots shortly before the Avetisians were found dead on Monday morning.
Permyakov was detained by Russian border guards in Armenia shortly after midnight, while trying to cross the border into Turkey dressed in civilian clothing. He was handed over to the Russian base. The soldier was kept there on Tuesday while being questioned by Russian military officials and Armenian law-enforcers.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General announced shortly after Poghosian’s news conference that Permyakov will not be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities pending investigation. In a statement, it argued that Russia’s constitution prohibits the extradition of Russian citizens to foreign states.
The statement also said that the probe of the killings is being jointly conducted by Russian and Armenian law-enforcement bodies. Poghosian likewise spoke of a “joint investigative team” leading the probe. He went on to claim that Russian military officials “find it expedient to transfer the case to the Armenian side.”
“It’s just that Armenian and Russian prosecutors are now figuring out necessary legal procedures,” he added.
Poghosian dismissed Armenian government critics’ suggestions that the Russian side is keen to keep custody of Permyakov in order to cover up the crime. “They have come here to conduct an objective investigation and punish all those who bear responsibility for the crime,” he said, referring to an ad hoc Russian Defense Ministry commission that flew to Gyumri on Monday night.
Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian met with the commission members led by Russian Deputy Defense Minister Arkady Bakhin on Tuesday. He made no statements afterwards.
“Everything depends on what the suspect will say and how he will explain what he did,” Ohanian told reporters before the meeting. “We will see to it that ... the guilty individual or individuals are punished.”
“I think that it’s not appropriate to politicize this or look for any deterioration of our relations because have a fairly high-level relationship and dialogue with the Russian Federation. Our military cooperation is at a particularly high level,” he added in reference to a domestic uproar caused by the Gyumri massacre.
Armenian civic activists say the fact that Permyakov was taken into Russian military custody also amounts to a breach of Armenia’s sovereignty. Some of them point to a clause in a 1997 bilateral treaty regulating Russian military presence in Armenia. It stipulates that Russian military personnel committing crimes outside the base in Gyumri shall be dealt with by Armenian law-enforcement bodies and courts.
Another article in the treaty upholds Russian jurisdiction over offenses registered inside Russian military facilities in Armenia. With Permyakov set to be charged with not only killing the six Armenians but also deserting his unit, Russian officials might invoke this clause.