The protest resulted from last week’s violent death of yet another Armenian soldier that sparked a renewed wave of public indignation against chronic hazing and other abuses committed by military personnel. It was staged during a weekly session of Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet.
The soldier, Aghasi Abrahamian, died shortly after being hospitalized from his army unit deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh. Another soldier and an officer serving there were arrested Wednesday in a criminal investigation reportedly led by Gevorg Kostanian, Armenia’s chief military prosecutor.
The Army Without Murderers, a newly formed civic group that organized the small demonstration through the Internet, said Abrahamian’s death shows that the Armenian military is still doing little to root out a culture of violence within its ranks. “We can’t stay silent anymore,” said one of its members.
The mostly female protesters chanted “Shame!” and held up pictures of other soldiers who were killed by fellow servicemen or allegedly committed suicide in recent years. Some of their parents dressed in black also took part in the protest.
“They killed him,” said the weeping mother of Tigran Hambardzumian, a 19-year-old conscript who was found dead two months ago near his unit stationed in the southeastern Armenian city of Kapan.
Military investigators say that Hambardzumian was “driven to suicide,” a claim strongly disputed by his family.
“I don’t see the investigating body doing anything in the last two months,” Hambardzumian’s angry father told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Nobody has been arrested or punished to date. If this case is not solved, my whole family will go mad.”
Armenia - The mother of Valeri Muradian, a soldier who died in disputed circumstances in 2010, protests outside the government building in Yerevan, 1Sept2011.
“Stop killing our children. We can’t tolerate that anymore,” cried another woman, whose son Valeri Muradian died in similar circumstances last year.
The protesters demanded a meeting with Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian. But the latter did not attend the cabinet meeting, leaving it to other government members, notably Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian, to talk to the angry crowd.
“I am concerned, very concerned every time I read such news,” a visibly agitated Tovmasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Two issues are at stake here: security and justice. As soon as they are addressed, 99 percent of the problems in the country will be solved.”
“This is also my sorrow, my pain,” he said, acknowledging that the non-combat deaths undermine public trust in the army and other state institutions.
The chief of the Armenian police, Alik Sargsian, who was also confronted by the demonstrators, promised to help their representatives with Ohanian. “He is the kind of person who won’t avoid such meetings and will definitely make an appointment today or tomorrow,” he said.
“Of course, such phenomena must not occur in the army,” added Sargsian. “Of course, that’s very bad. People must get back healthy sons from the army.”
Ohanian assured journalists on Tuesday that he is personally monitoring the criminal investigation into Abrahamian’s death and will make sure that those responsible for it are brought to justice.
The defense minister has repeatedly pledged to get tougher on army crime. Dozens of military personnel have been arrested, fired or demoted over the past year.