Tigran Hambardzumian, 19, was found dead Wednesday in a forest near his military unit stationed in the southeastern Armenian city of Kapan. Military officials there claimed that he disappeared from the base on Tuesday evening.
The Investigative Department of the Armenian Defense Ministry launched a criminal inquiry. A department spokeswoman said military investigators suspect that Hambardzumian was “driven to suicide” by his commanders or fellow conscripts.
But the soldier’s parents living in Norabats village in the southern Ararat province rejected this preliminary theory. “My boy was killed,” Hambardzumian’s grief-stricken mother, Anahit, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service after his funeral.
“My son could not have never committed suicide. He had a very strong will,” she said.
According to Anahit Hambardzumian, throughout his 18-month service Tigran never reported hazing or other abuse but complained of a “tense relationship” with a deputy commander of his unit. “He doesn’t like me,” she quoted him as saying on a number of occasions.
Hambardzumian’s body was sent home in a sealed coffin. His father Benik said military officials told him that the body was disfigured by a wolf after his death.
Benik Hambardzumian dismissed this explanation, saying that it is another indication that his son was murdered. He said he fears that the investigators will cover up the alleged killing.
The mysterious death came as another blow to the credibility of the Armenian military’s assurances that it has stepped up its fight against violent army crime. The problem has had a greater public resonance in the past year.
Dozens of military personnel have been arrested, fired or demoted since August 2010. Still, human rights groups and families of dead soldiers continue to assert that the military authorities are not doing enough to tackle the problem.
According military prosecutors, 43 Armenian soldiers were killed by fellow servicemen, committed suicide or died in various accidents and as a result of illnesses last year. The official suicide theories are often dismissed by victims’ families.
The previous non-combat reported by the Defense Ministry is a case in point. Artur Ghazarian, an 18-year-old conscript, died in late April after being fatally wounded at his military unit near Yerevan. A criminal investigation into the incident was launched under a Criminal Code article that deals with suicides committed as a result of “threats, brutal treatment or periodical humiliation of personal dignity.”
“I knew my boy very well and can say for sure that he could not have killed himself,” Ghazarian’s father told RFE/RL’s Armenian service at the time.
Another, more high-profile case is the death in July 2010 of Artak Nazarian, a 30-year-old army lieutenant who served in the northeastern Tavush province. The military investigators say she shot himself after being systematically mistreated by fellow officers and soldiers.
Nazarian’s relatives backed by Armenian human rights activists believe, however, that he was murdered.