Angry street protests in Gyumri could reignite if Russian authorities fail to hand over a Russian soldier charged with killing seven members of a local family to Armenian law-enforcement bodies, a senior Armenian clergyman warned on Monday.
Gyumri-based Archbishop Mikael Ajapahian said renewed anti-government and anti-Russian demonstrations in Armenia’s second-largest city would have “unpredictable consequences.”
“The people may again take to the streets if there is again a careless statement or wrong approach and the people’s minimum demand is not fulfilled,” Ajapahian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “And what the people are demanding is not a big deal. The people’s demands are feasible. They simply want the criminal to be handed over to Armenian law-enforcers.”
“God forbid that the people feel that they have been rebuffed. That would lead to unpredictable consequences,” added the head of an Armenian Apostolic Church diocese encompassing Gyumri and the surrounding Shirak region.
Ajapahian was worried about the kind of unrest that followed the January 12 killing spree blamed on Valery Permyakov, a soldier from the Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri. Permyakov has been kept in the base ever since being arrested hours after the massacre.
Scores of people rallied outside key government buildings as well as Russian facilities in Gyumri on January 14 and January 15 to demand the suspect’s handover to Armenian law-enforcement bodies. Hundreds of them clashed riot police outside the local Russian consulate.
While backing their demands, Ajapahian has deplored the violence. He urged the Gyumri citizens to avoid further unrest last week as he held a requiem service for 6-month-old Seryozha Avetisian, who died of his stab wounds one week after his 2-year-old sister, parents, aunt and grandparents were found dead in their home.
“I can’t work as a perpetual lighting rod,” the respected archbishop said on Monday.
The Armenian and Russian authorities have scrambled since January 15 to reassure the locals that the gruesome crime will be fully solved. They have pledged to coordinate their separate inquiries into the killings and said that Permyakov will stand trial in Armenia. However, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated last week that the 18-year-old will be tried in a Russian military court.
In Yerevan, meanwhile, Hunan Poghosian, a deputy chief of the Armenian police, said on Monday that he personally visited the Russian base and demanded Permyakov’s extradition immediately after the latter was caught by Russian border guards deployed on the nearby Turkish border. “But that’s not an issue that could have been solved on the basis of demand,” said Poghosian told a news conference. “As you all know, the issue is on the legal plane and should be solved within the framework of treaties between the two countries.”
Phoghosian spoke of “unprecedented” cooperation between Armenian and Russian officials investigating the crime.
The police general also confirmed reports that more than 100 Gyumri residents have been summoned to local police stations and questioned in connection with the January 15 violent protest. He said 27 of them might face accusations of hooliganism or resistance to police. None of them has been formally charged yet.