Amid mounting anger in Gyumri, the Russian military on Thursday pledged to ensure “the most severe punishment” for one of its soldiers believed to have killed six members of a local Armenian family. But it gave no indications that he will be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
Colonel Alexey Polyukhovich, a deputy commander of the Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri, appealed to Armenians as thousands of them took part in the funeral of the victims.
They silently walked to a municipal cemetery from Gyumri’s Surp Nshan church where the bodies of Seryrozha Avetisian, his wife, daughter, son, daughter-in-law and 2-year-old granddaughter lay in state for the past two days. Parliament speaker Galust Sahakian and several other Armenian officials also joined in the funeral procession.
“We are grieving together with the brotherly Armenian people and expressing our condolences to the relatives and friends of the dead,” Polyukhovich said in remarks aired by Gyumri-based TV channels.
“The centuries-old friendship of the Armenian and Russian peoples has endured many tests both during Turkish wars and terrible natural calamities,” he said. “We are now facing another test. Individuals committing such crimes have no nationality.”
“I want to assure you that the person who has committed that appalling crime will receive the most severe punishment,” Polyukhovich added in an apparent reference to Valery Permyakov, the Russian soldier charged with slaughtering the Avetisian family shortly after deserting his unit early on Monday.
Permyakov has been kept at the Russian base since being reportedly detained by Russian border guards in Armenia on Monday night. More than a thousand angry people rallied outside the base headquarters on Wednesday to demand his handover to the Armenian authorities. They believe that Russian custody of the suspect could lead to a cover-up of the unprecedented crime.
The Russian colonel did not mention the protest in his televised remarks. He said instead that that Russian and Armenian investigators are “jointly conducting an objective and comprehensive inquiry.”
Speaking at a news conference in Gyumri on Thursday, Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian said that a team of Armenian law-enforcement officers will again visit the Russian base and carry out “investigative actions” there later in the day. But Kostanian indicated that the Armenian side will not seek Permyakov’s extradition. He reiterated at the same time that the soldier will be prosecuted in Armenia.
Kostanian declined to clarify whether the 19-year-old will be tried by an Armenian court or a Russian military tribunal located in Yerevan. “All judicial procedures that are connected with our Criminal Code will be expedited by our courts,” he said vaguely.
Pressed by reporters, the chief Armenian prosecutor added, “Everything will be clarified during the criminal investigation.”
Kostanian’s remarks were denounced by Levon Barseghian, an outspoken member of Gyumri’s municipal council and one of the organizers of Wednesday’s protest. Barseghian wrote on Facebook that they amounted to a rejection of the protesters’ demands. “They just don’t understand polite words,” he said of the Armenian authorities.
The angry crowd gave the authorities until Thursday evening to ensure Permyakov’s extradition or face more protests.
Kostanian stressed that the authorities will not bow to the pressure. “They won’t make any difference even if they are attended by many more people,” he said. “We have performed and will perform our functions regardless of whether or not there are any rallies or demands.”
More busloads of riot police were seen arriving in Gyumri in the morning, in an apparent anticipation of renewed demonstrations. The authorities tightened security in and around key government buildings in Armenia’s second largest city.