The top Gyumri-based cleric of the Armenian Apostolic Church urged local residents to “stay calm” on Tuesday as he presided over a requiem service for 6-month-old Seryozha Avetisian, the seventh member of an Armenian family massacred there last week.
Seryozha succumbed to his stab wounds at a Yerevan hospital on Monday one week the after the killing spree, allegedly committed by a Russian soldier, which left his 2-year-old sister, parents, aunt and grandparents dead.
Thousands of people filed past his body as it lay in state in a tiny open coffin at Gyumri’s Surp Nshan Church. Many women cried during the procession that followed the prayer service held by Archbishop Mikael Ajapahian, the respected head of the local diocese of the Armenian church. Some people placed flowers and toys around the white coffin surrounded by sobbing relatives of the Avetisian family.
“Another angel has gone to heaven. God has decided to reunite him with his family, and the Avetisian family is in peace today,” Ajapahian said in a sermon delivered at the end of the ceremony attended by Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian and local government leaders.
“This infant is sending us this message from heaven: stay calm and composed,” Ajapahanian declared, urging locals to mourn his death “silently” and “without upheavals.”
“There must not be an eight victim,” he warned. “The death toll must not rise, regardless of people’s nationality and faith.”
Ajapahian clearly alluded to a possible repeat of violent unrest that followed the funeral of the other members of the Avetisian family on January 15.
About two thousand people rallied in Gyumri on that day, demanding that the Russian soldier charged with perpetrating the massacre be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities. Hundreds of them clashed with riot police at the Russian consulate in the northwestern Armenian city.
Ajapahian, who has backed the protesters’ demands but denounced the violence, spoke of “encouraging signs” coming from Russian and Armenian law-enforcement authorities. Armenians should therefore “turn the page on this nationwide tragedy, he said.
Organizers of the peaceful protests warned earlier that they will stage more rallies if the Russian authorities refuse to ensure that the murder suspect is tried in an Armenian court. Security in Gyumri was tightened following the announcement of the baby boy’s death.
Seryozha Avetisian was also remembered by many people in Yerevan. Hundreds of them lit candles and put teddy bears in the city’s Liberty Square throughout the day. “The entire Armenian nation must demand that that criminal is not taken to Russia and is tried in Armenia,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).