In a move that could reignite tensions in Gyumri, the Armenian police made on Wednesday the first arrest in their investigation into last month’s unrest which followed the slaughter of a local family blamed on a Russian soldier.
Relatives of Mnatsakan Aleksanian, a 22-year-old resident of a village near Gyumri, said he was taken into custody after being again interrogated by the local police over his role in the January 15 clashes between protesters and security forces near the Russian consulate in Armenia’s second largest city.
“My son has been arrested in connection with the Gyumri events,” the young man’s father, Martiros Aleksanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said Mnatsakan has been repeatedly summoned to a local police station for questioning in recent weeks.
The Armenian police issued no statements on the development as of Wednesday evening. The police chief, Vladimir Gasparian, said on January 28 that his officers are trying to identify and prosecute the “organizers” of the clashes that left dozens of policemen and civilians injured.
The police detained over two dozen protesters immediately after the unprecedented unrest. All of them were set free the following morning. They as well as dozens of residents of Gyumri and surrounding areas received police summonses in the following weeks.
One of Gasparian’s deputies, Hunan Poghosian, said late last month that 27 individuals are now risking prosecution on charges of hooliganism and violent resistance to the police.
Gasparian’s and Poghosian’s statements were denounced Gyumri-based civic activists who organized a series of peaceful demonstrations following the killing of the seven members of the Avetisian family. The protesters want Valery Permyakov, the Russian soldier charged in the shock massacre, to be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
One of the protest leaders, Levon Barseghian, was quick to condemn Aleksanian’s arrest. “We suspect that they will also arrest other people,” he said. “The regime is taking hostages without thinking of consequences.”
Barseghian spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service by phone as he and other activists gathered outside the prosecutor’s office in Gyumri to seek official information about Aleksanian’s status.
Zaruhi Postanjian, an opposition parliamentarian who begged furious Gyumri youths to stop clashing with riot police on January 15, also expressed serious concern over the arrest. In a Facebook post, she said the Armenian authorities are trying to bully local people into avoiding fresh street protests.
Barseghian and other local activists have repeatedly warned that the protests will reignite if Permyakov continues to be kept in detention at the Gyumri headquarters of a Russian military base. The peaceful rallies organized by them forced Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian to promise that he will ask Russian authorities to place the suspect under Armenian jurisdiction. Kostanian sent a corresponding letter to his Russian counterpart, Yury Chayka, on Tuesday.
Earlier on Wednesday, Postanian and another outspoken opposition lawmaker, Nikol Pashinian, demanded that the letter be made public. They said it is not clear whether Kostanian explicitly requested Permyakov’s handover to Armenian investigators.
“What transfer of jurisdiction are you talking about now that Armenia’s Investigative Committee has repeatedly said that it is in charge of the case and is continuing the investigation?” Pashinian asked Justice Minister Hovannes Manukian during the Armenian government’s question-and-answer session in the parliament.
Manukian declined to shed light on the matter.