The arrest followed the circulation of an amateur Youtube video that shows a uniform-clad man hitting and humiliating two army conscripts during what looks like a picnic. The footage caused public outrage, prompting the Armenian military to order an inquiry.
The Defense Ministry initially questioned its veracity and said those who posted it on the Internet are keen to “discredit” the Armed Forces. Subsequent media reports said military investigators tracked down the officer shown in the clip. He was identified as Major Sasun Galstian, deputy commander of an army unit deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In a written statement, the ministry said Galstian was arrested and formally charged last Friday under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with abuse of power committed by servicemen. It carries between two and five years’ imprisonment.
The ministry statement also identified the two soldiers allegedly mistreated by Galstian, saying that they both will be examined by forensic medics. It said the video was shot in July on a mobile phone belonging to another serviceman, in the presence of his father and brother.
All three men are being questioned by military investigators, added the statement. It was not clear if any of them risks prosecution.
The widely publicized video could hardly surface at a worse time for the Armenian military. It was rocked by a series of non-combat shootings in late July and August that left at least seven soldiers dead. Five of them died in a single incident.
The shock deaths highlighted chronic abuse and corruption within the army. Eight senior and mid-level officers were dismissed and more than a dozen others demoted as a result. Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian publicly lambasted them at an emergency meeting of senior Defense Ministry officials and the top army brass.
Four other servicemen, including an army captain, are currently under arrest pending trial on charges of ill-treating a junior officer who military investigators claim committed suicide while on combat duty. Relatives of Lieutenant Artak Nazarian believe, however, that he was murdered.
In a related development, the Defense Ministry submitted to the Armenian parliament earlier this month a draft Disciplinary Code of the armed forces that allows soldiers to challenge illegal orders issued by their immediate commanders.