The head of Armenia’s main military academy has been dismissed after four of its cadets were arrested and charged with murdering another student.
Haykaz Barseghian, a first-year student of the Vazgen Sarkisian Military Institute, was found hanged at its sports ground early on January 29. Four other young men studying at the Yerevan-based academy were arrested in the following days in connection with Barseghian’s death. They were formally charged with killing the fellow cadet for “hooligan motives.”
Defense Seyran Ohanian expressed outrage at the incident during an emergency meeting of top military officers and the Institute’s leadership on Saturday. The Armenian army has received a “blow from behind” to its reputation, he said, according to the Defense Ministry in Yerevan.
A ministry statement quoted Ohanian as accusing “some officers” of tolerating “vicious mores” which he said led to the cadet’s death. He also pledged to make “radical” personnel changes within the military academy.
President Serzh Sarkisian sacked the academy chief, Lieutenant-General Martin Karapetian, with a decree that was signed on Monday. The presidential press service gave no reasons for the sacking. The Defense Ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that more such dismissals could be announced soon.
Karapetian already offered to step down about two years following the murder of a soldier which was blamed on one of his cadets. The resignation was not accepted by his superiors at the time.
It remains to be seen whether the arrested cadets will plead guilty to the accusations. Armenia’s Investigating Committee, a law-enforcement body dealing with the case, has reported few details of its probe so far.
“The investigation is continuing,” Sona Truzian, the committee spokeswoman, said later on Monday. “Measures are being taken to establish all circumstances of the incident.”
Hazing and other chronic problems resulting in non-combat deaths of soldiers have come under greater public scrutiny in Armenia in the past several years, forcing the military to toughen its crackdown on army crime. The military insists that the number of such fatalities has been steadily decreasing.
According to official reports collated by the Razm.info defense news service, 18 Armenian soldiers died in non-combat circumstances -- including murders, suicides, diseases and accidents -- last year, down from 23 such cases reported in 2013.