Relatives of seven Armenians murdered in Gyumri last year on Tuesday threatened to boycott the trial of a Russian soldier who has confessed to the massacre if it continues inside the Russian military base in Armenia.
Speaking on the first anniversary of the shock killings, they were deeply dissatisfied with criminal investigations conducted by Armenian and Russian law-enforcement authorities. Some of them alleged an official cover-up.
The soldier, Valery Permyakov, was arrested near the Turkish border early on January 13, 2015, hours after six members of the Avetisian family were found shot dead in their home. The family’s seventh member, a 6-month-old baby boy, died of his stab injuries a week later.
Permyakov admitted murdering them during his separate interrogations by Russian and Armenian investigators. The latter maintain that he acted alone.
The victims’ relatives believe that he also had other accomplices. “Permyakov didn’t act alone. It was a preplanned crime,” said Rita Petrosian, whose sister Hasmik died in the killing spree.
Gyumri Mayor Samvel Balasanian seemed to echo this claim after he and senior government officials and lawmakers from Yerevan joined the relatives in remembering the murdered Avetisians during a prayer service held by their graves.
“How come he opened fire and the neighbors didn’t hear the gunshots?” asked Balasanian. “Why is it that all victims of a single shooter remained in their beds? These questions must get answers during the judicial process.”
A Russian military court sentenced Permyakov to 10 years in prison for desertion and theft of firearms and ammunition in a short trial held in Gyumri in August. The 20-year-old conscript went on another, Armenian trial on December 18, facing charges of murder, armed robbery and an attempt to illegally cross the Armenian-Turkish border.
The trial is taking place at the Gyumri headquarters of the Russian military base where Permyakov has been kept ever since his arrest. The presiding Armenian judge attributed the choice of the venue to security considerations. The explanation failed to satisfy Petrosian and several other relatives who were present at the opening session of the trial.
They warned on Tuesday that they will not attend further court hearings unless they are held in an Armenian court house. “We will definitely boycott the trial,” said Petrosian. “They do what they want.”
“We are not going to go to the Russian base anymore,” agreed another woman related to the murdered family. “They want to cover up everything.”
Two opposition lawmakers present at the commemoration of the massacre anniversary, Nikol Pashinian and Zaruhi Postanjian, added their voice to those demands. Postanjian claimed that the venue of the trial runs counter to Armenian law.
The next court hearing is scheduled for January 18.