Russian and Armenian law-enforcement authorities agreed on Tuesday to coordinate their separate investigations into the killing of seven members of an Armenian family in Gyumri blamed on a Russian soldier.
The agreement was announced during a visit to Armenia by Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, a powerful law-enforcement agency. He met with the head of a similar Armenian body, Aghvan Hovsepian, and President Serzh Sarkisian to discuss ways of solving the gruesome crime that has cast a shadow over close ties between the two countries.
Bastrykin and Hovsepian ended their negotiations with a three-hour meeting held at the Gyumri headquarters of a Russian military base stationed in Armenia. Valery Permyakov, the Russian soldier charged with slaughtering the local family, has been kept there since being arrested on January 12.
Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for Hovsepian, said the two men signed there an agreement to set up an ad hoc Russian-Armenian body that will coordinate the work of their investigators. “Serious work that needs to be done to ensure that the investigation is comprehensive,” Truzian told reporters.
“In order to be able to properly answer all questions preoccupying the public, the heads of the two countries’ investigative committees decided to carry out joint and coordinated actions,” she said. “They will set up a coordinating body for that purpose.”
Vladmir Markin, the Russian Investigative Committee spokesman, similarly announced in Moscow earlier in the day that the two sides “agreed on joint activities for a comprehensive, full and objective investigation of the criminal cases opened in both countries.” According to Markin, Bastrykin assured Armenian leaders that Permyakov will stand trial “solely on Armenian territory.”
It remained unclear whether the suspect will be tried in an Armenian court or a Russian military tribunal located in Yerevan. Many in Armenia fear that a Russian trial would increase the likelihood of a cover-up. They are increasingly criticizing the Sarkisian administration for its failure to secure custody of the detained soldier.
Markin said that the case, which has sparked unprecedented anti-Russian protests in Gyumri, will be handled in accordance with “international norms” and Russian-Armenian accords. He listed, among other things, a 1997 treaty regulating Russian military presence in the South Caucasus state.
The treaty stipulates that Russian military personnel in Armenia charged with crimes committed outside their installations shall be prosecuted by Armenian authorities. It requires Russian military investigators to deal with offenses happening within the base. The Russians have charged Permyakov with not only multiple murder but also desertion, meaning that the 18-year-old conscript technically falls under both Russian and Armenian jurisdictions.
Truzian said the agreement reached during Bastrykin’s visit allows the Armenian investigators to conduct a “full-fledged inquiry.” In that context, she did not deny reports that they have still not been allowed by the Russian military to interrogate Permyakov.
Confronted by angry protesters in Gyumri on January 15, Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian said that Armenian law-enforcement officers have visited the Russian base and taken various “investigative actions” there. Kostanian also pledged to ask his Russian counterpart, Yury Chaika, to transfer the case to the Armenian side.