An Armenian soldier who allegedly killed himself and five other servicemen last week had a long criminal record in the United States and should not have been drafted on his return to Armenia, according to his relatives.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service at the weekend, they accused military authorities of ignoring their warnings that Karo Ayvazian is a convicted and mentally unstable felon unfit for military service.
Ayvazian, 21, was one five soldiers who were shot dead, along with one of their commanders, at an Armenian army unit last week. The Armenian Defense Ministry says the shootings were sparked by a dispute resulting from “a blatant violation of the rules of combat duty.” It has declined to give further details, saying that a criminal investigation is underway.
Some human rights activists privy to the inquiry claim that Ayvazian went on a shooting spree and turned his gun on himself after a dispute with the officer. Military investigators have not comment on these claims.
According to two close relatives of Ayvazian, the young man had emigrated to the U.S. with his mother in 1992 and was deported to Armenia in 2009 because of a long history of criminal conduct, including robbery and illegal arms possession. They said he was first jailed at the age of 13 and spent most of the following years in prisons and, briefly, at a psychiatric clinic in California.
“If law was enforced in Armenia, Karo Ayvazian would not have been drafted at all,” said Anushavan Mikaelian, Ayvazian’s uncle. Mikaelian said both he and his father Jivan repeatedly alerted at a military commissariat in Yerevan and the Defense Ministry about this fact.
“It is written in his papers that one cannot give him any weapons, but they still drafted and sent him to the frontline,” said Jivan Mikaelian “Why did they do that? … They said, ‘America is a foreign country.’”
“We showed papers saying that he has a criminal record, spent time in a psychiatric hospital and so on, but it didn’t work because there was no money to be made,” added the dead soldier’s grandfather. He claimed that an official at the commissariat was ready to have Ayvazian exempted from compulsory military service only in exchange for a $4,000 bribe.
The two men told RFE/RL that they can not show those documents because they never got them back from military officials.
However, a senior Defense Ministry official, who did not want to be identified, dismissed these claims on Monday. He said that Mikaelian and his son had not produced any valid U.S. documents certifying Ayvazian’s criminal convictions.
Under Armenian law, draft-age male citizens can not serve in the Armed Forces if they have three or more years behind bars.
The soldier’s relatives also questioned the unofficial theory of the July 28 shooting, saying that Ayvazian had good relations with fellow conscripts despite his poor knowledge of the Armenian language. “We don’t know what happened,” said Anushavan Mikaelian. “Even if he did that, he is not to blame for that. If he is a potential criminal, he should not have been taken to the army in the first place.”