The Armenian police guarded Russia’s military and diplomatic facilities in Gyumri on Friday one day after clashing with local residents protesting against a deadly shooting spree allegedly perpetrated by a Russian soldier.
With no fresh demonstrations held in Armenia’s second largest city, tensions there seemed to have eased for now. Still, police presence on the streets remained stronger than usual. Local security forces were beefed up by riot police units dispatched from Yerevan.
In particular, police cars and officers were deployed near the Russian army base, a residential complex housing its officers and their families as well as Russia’s consulate-general in Gyumri.
A street section adjacent to the consulate was the scene of pitched battles fought late on Thursday by riot police and hundreds of angry protesters demanding that a Russian soldier charged with killing six members of a local Armenian family be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
According to health authorities in Gyumri, 18 police officers and 10 civilians were hospitalized during and after the violence. The vast majority of them were discharged from a local hospital by Friday afternoon. One policeman was transported to Yerevan for further medical treatment.
The police detained 21 protesters, virtually all of them young men, on the spot. They all were set free the following morning.The police gave no indications that they will press criminal charges against any of them.
Meanwhile, relatives of the family slaughtered for still unclear reasons declared that they had no part in Thursday’s protests, which began hours after the funeral of Seryozha Avetisian, his wife, daughter, son, daughter-in-law and 2-year-old granddaughter. They at the same time backed the protesters’ calls for the indicted Russian soldier, Valery Permyakov, to be prosecuted by Armenia.
Speaking at a Gyumri cemetery on behalf of the relatives, one of Avetisian’s cousins, Samvel Hovannisian, said: “We are only demanding justice. We demand that that person be strictly punished in accordance with the laws of our country. We want to know the reasons for that tragedy which is being mourned not only by us but also the entire nation.”
“We also don’t want [such a crime] to be repeated against any other family,” Hovannisian told journalists. “God willing, it will be the first and last crime of its kind.”
The Armenian law-enforcement authorities have so far been reluctant to seek custody of Permyakov, who is being kept at the Russian base. Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian has only promised, under pressure from the Gyumri protesters, to ask his Russian counterpart to ensure that the case is transferred to Armenian jurisdiction.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee confirmed that its officers questioned the suspect and carried out other “judicial actions” at the Russian installation on Thursday. But a spokeswoman for the law-enforcement agency, Sona Truzian, declined to clarify whether it has formally charged or issued arrest warrants for him.
A Russian military court located in Yerevan remanded Permyakov in pre-trial custody on Wednesday. A statement posted on its website said a Russian “investigative body” has levelled accusations of multiple murder and desertion against the 18-year-old.
The statement came as a further indication that the Russian military wants the serviceman to be tried by its tribunal. Many in Gyumri fear that this would facilitate a cover-up of the crime. They say the case should be heard by an Armenian court.
Some lawyers in Yerevan believe that an ongoing criminal investigation launched by the Armenian law-enforcement authorities will be meaningless as long as Permyakov remains in Russian custody. One of them, Lusine Sahakian, described the separate Russian and Armenian inquiries as “legal nonsense.”