Armenia has formally asked Russia to extradite a Russian soldier accused of murdering seven members of an Armenian family in Gyumri.
Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian’s office announced on Tuesday that he has sent a letter to his Russian counterpart, Yury Chayka, saying that the high-profile case should be transferred to Armenian jurisdiction.
The office said Kostanian invoked a 1997 Russian-Armenian treaty regulating the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia. It gave no other details of the letter.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General revealed Kostanian’s petition just hours after a Russian news report said that Valery Permyakov, the Russian conscript charged in the massacre, will be tried by a Russian military court in Armenia. Citing an unnamed source close to the investigation into the January 12 massacre, the Interfax news agency said that the court will consider evidence collected not only by Russian investigators but also their Armenian colleagues.
Permyakov has been kept under arrest at the Russian base’s Gyumri headquarters ever since being arrested, in still unclear circumstances, 12 hours after a local couple, their daughter, son, daughter-in-law and 2-year-old granddaughter were found dead in their home. The seventh member of the Avetisian family, a 6-month-old baby boy, died of his stab injuries a week later.
Kostanian’s letter means that the Armenian authorities want Permyakov to appear before an Armenian court and to be tried under Armenian law -- something which has for weeks been demanded by many residents of Gyumri. The latter believe that a Russian trial would facilitate a cover-up of the gruesome crime.
About 2,000 Gyumri citizens staged a series of protests outside government buildings and Russian facilities in Armenia’s second largest city last month. Some of them clashed with riot police near the local Russian consulate on January 15.
Responding to the unprecedented protests, the Russian authorities assured Armenians that they will spare no effort to solve the killings. Later in January, the heads of powerful Russian and Armenian law-enforcement bodies pledged to coordinate their separate criminal investigations into the slaughter. Armenian investigators were subsequently allowed to interrogate Permyakov.
Non-partisan activists who helped to organize the Gyumri protests urged Moscow to grant Kostanian’s request. “A [Russian] rebuff could further escalate the situation,” one of them, Karen Petrosian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It would be very prudent of the Russian authorities to meet our legitimate demands and hand over that person to Armenian law-enforcement bodies.”
Another activist, Armen Nersisian, similarly warned that the protests will reignite if the Russians remain adamant in having custody of Permyakov. “If somebody thinks that our pressure on this issue has eased they are wrong,” he said. “The pain and shock in Gyumri has not eased either.”
Nersisian added that the soldier’s handover is a matter of not only justice but also “national dignity.”
Kostanian pledged to appeal to the chief Russian prosecutor when he was confronted by angry demonstrators in Gyumri on January 15. They were incensed by his earlier statement that the Armenian side is not seeking Permyakov’s handover because Russia’s constitution forbids the extradition of Russian citizens to foreign states.
The treaty cited by Kostanian in his letter stipulates that Russian military personnel charged with crimes committed outside their installations in Armenia shall be prosecuted by Armenian authorities. It requires Russian investigators to deal with offenses happening within the military base. The Russians have charged Permyakov with not only multiple murder but also desertion, meaning that the 18-year-old can technically fall under both Russian and Armenian jurisdictions.