By Karine Kalantarian
Russian law-enforcement authorities have stepped up their efforts to combat and avert racist attacks on Armenians and other non-Slavic immigrants, Russia’s Prosecutor-General Yuri Chayka said during a visit to Yerevan on Friday.
Seeking to allay growing concerns in Armenia about ethnic violence in Russia, he said his office now directly oversees criminal investigations into racially motivated murders of Armenians, which are regularly reported from various parts of the vast country.
“Since the second half of 2005, five criminal cases involving criminals who have committed crimes [against ethnic Armenians] motivated by ethnic hatred have been under the control of the Prosecutor-General’s Office,” Chayka told a news conference. The agency also formed recently a special unit tasked with monitoring the enforcement of Russian laws on “federal security and inter-ethnic relations,” he said.
The Russian law-enforcement bodies have been under fire in recent months for their failure to stop the increasingly endemic violence against darker-skinned immigrants from the Caucasus, Central Asia and Africa. It is widely blamed on neo-Nazi skinhead groups openly operating in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and other Russian cities. According to Russian human rights organizations, at least six Armenians and ethnic Armenian citizens of Russia have been killed in such attacks this year alone.
The most recent of those killings, reported in May, sparked a fresh outcry in Armenia that forced the authorities in Yerevan to raise the issue with Moscow. Meeting a visiting senior Kremlin official in June, President Robert Kocharian demanded tougher action against perpetrators of hate crimes, which have often been characterized as “hooligan acts” by the Russian police.
According to Simon Tsaturian, a Moscow-based lawyer who has represented the families of some of the Armenian victims, the Russian authorities have been doing more to tackle the problem since Chayka’s appointment as prosecutor-general in July. “I see considerable progress in that fight under the new leadership of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office,” he told RFE/RL by phone.
Tsaturian cited recent arrests made in the fatal stabbing on a Moscow subway in April of Vigen Abramiants, a 17-year-old ethnic Armenian. The murder, which outraged Russia’s sizable Armenian community, seems to have been solved, he said.
Unlike Chayka, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev was more dismissive of the Armenian concerns as he visited Yerevan in late June. He claimed that the reported number of Armenians killed for racist motives in recent month is grossly exaggerated.
Persisting ethnic tensions in Russia were underscored last week by fighting in a Volga River town involving ethnic Armenians and others that left one Russian man dead and at least three injured. Ekho Moskvy radio reported that the café brawl was followed by an attack on ethnic Armenian students at a local technical college that left one student with a knife wound. The violence came about a week after two people were killed in clashes and rioting that targeted Chechens in the northern town of Kondopoga.
It is not clear if the issue was on the agenda of Chayka’s talks with Kocharian and Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian. A statement on the meeting issued by Kocharian’s office made no mention of it, saying only that the two men discussed ways of boosting ties between the Armenian and Russian law-enforcement bodies.
The official purpose of Chayka’s trip was to attend a regular meeting of Armenia’s and Russia’s top prosecutors. Its participants praised the effectiveness of bilateral cooperation.
According to official data made public after the meeting, the Russians have arrested and extradited 34 criminal suspects to Armenia in the first eight months of this year. The Armenian law-enforcers, for their part, have detained 99 persons wanted by their Russian counterparts. However, only one of them was extradited to Russia. Law-enforcement sources explained that the other suspects are Armenian nationals and will therefore be tried by Armenian courts.
(Photolur photo: Yuri Chayka.)