By Anna Saghabalian
Several dozen people staged a rare demonstration outside the Russian embassy in Yerevan on Monday to condemn and protest against the continuing racially motivated killings of Armenians and other dark-skinned residents of Russia.
The protesters, most of them representatives of several Armenian civic groups, accused Moscow of connivance and even complicity in the xenophobic violence widely blamed on tens of thousands of neo-Nazi skinheads operating across Russia. They also denounced the Armenian government’s reluctance to bring the Kremlin to task over the killings.
The protest was sparked by the fatal stabbing of a Russian citizen of Armenian descent by a group of rampaging youths on a train in a Moscow suburb. Artur Sardarian, 19, is the sixth ethnic Armenian reportedly killed in Russia this year.
Russian human rights organizations say a total of at least 15 people from the Caucasus, Central Asia and Africa have lost their lives in racist attacks since January. The death toll for the last year is estimated at 28.
Few of the perpetrators of those killings have been arrested and brought to justice, with Russian law-enforcement agencies and courts notoriously lenient towards them. A case in point was the trial in Russia’s second largest city of St. Petersburg of seven teenagers who were convicted of collectively stabbing to death a 9-year-old Tajik girl but were sentenced to only between 18 months and five years in prison last February.
In a petition handed to Russian embassy officials, the organizers of the Yerevan protest suggested that the neo-Nazi groups guilty of the attacks are openly operating “with the sponsorship of some Russian state structures.”
“There is no way such illegal acts could have been carried out for so long and so indiscriminately without the backing of some state structures,” said Avetik Ishkhanian of the Armenian Helsinki Committee.
The protesters also marched to the Armenian Foreign Ministry to condemn its failure to publicly criticize the Russian authorities for their failure to stop the violence. Armenia’s ambassador in Moscow and other diplomats say they regularly raise the issue with Russian officials. But the organizers of the protest insisted that Yerevan is scared of openly challenging its ex-Soviet master and closest ally.
“I am convinced that if the Armenian authorities took a tougher line the situation would not be so grave,” said Ishkhanian.
“The Armenian authorities are not doing anything to stop the killings,” charged another protester, Arsen Kharatian. “Their failure to speak out is a crime in itself.”
Sardarian’s violent death came in the wake of an uproar caused by the killing of another young Armenian. The 17-year-old Vigen Abramiants was stabbed to death on a Moscow subway platform on April 22. The crime, which has still not been solved, prompted an outburst of anti-Russian rhetoric in the Armenian media which dealt a further blow to the traditionally strong pro-Russian sentiment in Armenia.