Five soldiers were sentenced to between three and ten years in prison on Tuesday in connection with the 2010 death of a fellow serviceman that heightened public awareness of violent crimes committed in the Armenian army.
Artak Nazarian, a 30-year-old lieutenant, was found dead on an army post near Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan in July 2010. Military prosecutors say that he shot himself to death after being systematically ill-treated by a deputy commander of his battalion and three other soldiers. They were arrested later in 2010 and went on trial in 2011.
Nazarian’s relatives believe, however, that he was murdered by more high-level officers that avoided prosecution. They have accused military prosecutors of covering up the crime. The Nazarian family has also been highly critical of a more than yearlong trial of the five arrested suspects at a court in the northern Armenian town of Ijevan.
The court sentenced one of the suspects, Captain Hakob Manukian, to ten years in prison. Three others, Lieutenant Vahagn Hayrapetian and Privates Mkhitar Mkhitarian and Adibek Hovannisian, were jailed for four years. The fifth defendant, Harutik Kirakosian, received a three-year prison sentence but was freed because of a 2011 general amnesty.
Relatives of the defendants present in the courtroom reacted angrily to the verdict, denouncing it as unfair and too harsh. “Shame on you,” shouted one of them.
Hayrapetian’s lawyer, Levon Poghosian, said he will appeal to a higher court in Yerevan. “My client is not guilty at all. He was made a scapegoat,” he said.
Nazarian’s sister Tsovinar, who has been closely monitoring the case, also denounced the court ruling and said her family will appeal it. “Unfortunately, our predictions proved right,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The judge rubber-stamped the suicide theory advanced by the military prosecutors.”
“We remain deeply convinced that it was a murder and will do everything to have that murder solved,” added Tsovinar Nazarian.
Nazarian’s death and a resulting outcry from civic groups cast a renewed spotlight on chronic non-combat deaths in Armenia’s armed forces. The greater public resonance led the Armenian military and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian in particular to promise a tougher crackdown on hazing.
Dozens of military personnel have been arrested, fired or demoted since then. Military authorities have also reported a sizable decrease in the number of Armenian soldiers dying in non-combat circumstances. However, civic activists monitoring army crime insist that the authorities are still not doing enough to tackle the problem.