Hundreds of angry people clashed with riot police outside the Russian consulate in the Armenian city of Gyumri late on Thursday on the second day of protests against the killing of a local family allegedly committed by a Russian soldier.
The protesters gathered outside the diplomatic mission as they continued to demand that the suspect kept at the Russian military base in Gyumri be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
Security forces in full riot gear fired tear gas and stun grenades and used truncheons to stop them from approaching the consulate compound.
The protesters responded with a hail of stones thrown at several rows of riot police. An Armenian opposition parliamentarian, Zaruhi Postanjian, begged them to back away and avoid further violence.
An RFE/RL correspondent witnessed several people injured in the melee. Ambulances carried away some of them from the scene.
Doctors at a local hospital told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that eight protesters and three police officers were hospitalized with serious injuries sustained during the clashes. Most of them were discharged later in the evening.
More than a dozen other Gyumri residents were reportedly detained on the spot. The police did not immediately confirm those reports.
The vast majority of the demonstrators, most of them youths, agreed to march back to the city center only after being addressed by another lawmaker, Martun Grigorian, who represents a Gyumri constituency in the Armenian parliament. “It’s a deadlock, my dear people,” he told them. “Calm down and move on.”
The angry crowd marched to the consulate after a larger and peaceful demonstration staged outside the local prosecutors’ office. About 2,000 people gathered there late in the afternoon to demand that Valery Permyakov, the detained soldier who has confessed to the killings, be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities or at least be tried by an Armenian court.
Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian emerged from the heavily guarded building to assure the protesters that he will seek to ensure that Permyakov is tried by an Armenian court. “As prosecutor-general and a man, I am telling you that I will definitely appeal to Russia’s prosecutor-general with that demand,” Kostanian said.
Many protesters applauded him in response. But they grew increasingly skeptical as the protest went on.
Archbishop Mikael Ajapahian, the head of the local diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, was on hand to calm the crowd, saying that its demands must be redirected to the Russian authorities. “We demand that they hand over the criminal to Armenian law-enforcement authorities. But the object of our demands is not here,” he said.
The appeal fell on deaf ears, however, with many participants of the rally heading to the Russian consulate general. Ajapahian berated a smaller number of demonstrators when they again rallied outside the prosecutors’ building after the violence which he blamed on “provocateurs.” “Go home,” he told them before entering the building for more talks with Kostanian.
Postanjian and Grigorian came out of the building at around the same. They both told the remaining protesters that Kostanian stands by his pledge to appeal to his Russian counterpart. But they said the prosecutor has yet to decide when to send the official petition to Moscow.
Kostanian confirmed that when he again spoke to the protesters at around midnight. “I will really appeal to Russia’s prosecutor-general,” he said.
Kostanian also denounced the violence. “We all have the same goal but different ways of achieving it,” he said. “I think the path chosen by you is not justified.”
Meanwhile, Grigorian and one of the protest leaders were allowed by the Russian military command in Gyumri to visit the base and see that Permyakov has not been secretly flown out of Armenia.
“He is there. We saw him with our eyes,” the lawmaker said on his return from the Russian headquarters. He said the Permyakov is being kept in a solitary cell at the base’s detention center.
The protesters demanded video evidence of Permyakov remaining in the country before the violent confrontation near the Russian consulate. Kostanian pledged to help secure such evidence, while insisting that Armenian law-enforcement officers are now questioning Permyakov.
In his first appearance at Thursday’s rally, Kostanian said only that Permyakov will stand trial in Armenia. The protesters dismissed that statement, saying the case must not be heard by a Russian military tribunal in Yerevan.
The gruesome killing of six members of the Gyumri family also sparked smaller demonstrations outside the presidential palace, Kostanian’s offices and the Russian Embassy in the Armenian capital. About 100 people rallied outside the embassy building in downtown Yerevan on Thursday. Police detained two activists there after one of them attempted to burn a Russian flag.
Another, spontaneous protest broke out in Yerevan’s Liberty Square late in the evening, shortly after news of the Gyumri clashes spread across Armenia. More than two dozen of them were randomly detained by plainclothes police officers. The latter refused to clearly explain the arrests.