Military investigators acknowledged that Lieutenant Artak Nazarian was ill-treated by at least one fellow officer and soldiers of his unit stationed in the northeastern Tavush region bordering Azerbaijan. They effectively insisted, nonetheless, that he shot himself while on combat duty.
A statement by the Defense Ministry said a criminal investigation into the incident, which has shocked many Armenians, is being conducted under a Criminal Code article that deals with “inducing suicides” through violence and humiliation.
One of the reported detainees is Captain Hakob Manukian, a deputy commander of the battalion where Nazarian had served since last November. The ministry statement said Manukian is suspected of beating up and humiliating the 30-year-old officer in a way that led to “severe consequences.”
According to the Defense Ministry, the three other detainees, all of them army conscripts, also assaulted Nazarian. No further details were reported.
None of the four men has been formally charged yet. The accusation that can be leveled against Manukian carries between three and eight years’ imprisonment, while the three soldiers are facing the possibility of up to twelve years in jail.
Nazarian’s relatives say a forensic examination of his exposed numerous injuries to his face, hands, shoulders and feet, which they believe were inflicted several hours before the shooting. They on Wednesday stood by their view that he was killed by other servicemen.
“They have no intention to solve the crime. They are simply covering it up,” Nazarian’s mother, Hasmik Hovannisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service, commenting on the announced arrests.
“I am convinced that it was a murder, not a suicide,” said Sona Nazarian, one of the lieutenant’s two sisters.
The relatives said earlier that Nazarian, who enrolled in contractual military service in November, had difficult relations with his commanders. They said he was treated as a “weak” officer who can not harshly impose his will on soldiers.
According to the military, Nazarian was found dead at an army outpost on July 27, the day before an even more serious incident that occurred in another frontline unit. Six soldiers were shot dead there in still unclear circumstances.
The shootings are widely regarded as being the result of chronic abuse and mismanagement within Armenia’s Armed Forces. Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian has assured the victims’ families that “all necessary measures are being taken to identify the causes of the incidents and hold the guilty accountable.”