Forensic tests have confirmed that the seven members of an Armenian family in Gyumri were murdered at home in January by a Russian soldier currently kept under arrest, lawyers representing the victims’ relatives said on Thursday.
Citing DNA samples collected by Armenian investigators from the scene of the massacre, they said that all of the victims were shot or stabbed in their beds and that only one of them, Seryozha Avetisian, was able to put up some resistance.
The 53-year-old Avetisian, his wife, unmarried daughter, son, daughter-in-law and 2-year-old granddaughter were found dead in their Gyumri house early on January 12. His second grandchild, a 6-month-old baby, died of stab wounds a week later, adding to a nationwide shock and outrage caused by the mysterious killings.
Police found in the house an assault rifle belonging to Valery Permyakov, a conscript serving at a Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri. Permyakov was caught on the nearby Armenian-Turkish border and handed over to the base’s headquarters later on January 12.
Permyakov, who remains in Russian military custody, subsequently confessed to the killings. His motives remain unclear, however.
Speaking at a news conference in Yerevan, the lawyers confirmed that Armenian forensic experts have found traces of Permyakov’s DNA on the Kalashnikov rifle, its detachable bayonet and a cigarette butt left in the Avetisians’ house.
“DNA traces of Seryozha Avetisian were also found on the gun barrel, which suggests that he grabbed the barrel,” one of them, Lusine Sahakian, said. “They also found his DNA on the rifle butt.”
“This allows us to presume that the shooter also hit him with the butt,” she said. “There were injuries on his body which we think were caused by the butt.”
“So judging from the forensic examination, the grandfather tried to fight back,” added Sahakian.
Sahakian and the other lawyer, Yerem Sargsian, confirmed that Avetisian and the other members of the family slept in their bed then the gunman broke into their house early in the morning. The 6-month-old baby, also called Seryozha, lay with his mother, Araksia Poghosian, at that moment. Poghosian tried to protect her child with her body moments before they both were stabbed by the bayonet, according to the lawyers.
Sargsian said while it is clear that the murders were committed by Permyakov there is still no conclusive evidence that the Russian soldier acted alone. Nor is it known why he decided to massacre the family after deserting his army unit shortly before dawn, added the lawyer.
Both lawyers stressed that answers to these and other lingering questions require a single and comprehensive criminal investigation which they believe is still not being conducted. Armenian law-enforcement authorities and the Russian military are holding separate inquiries into the crime.
The Russians have so far refused to hand over Permyakov to the Armenian side, ignoring a corresponding letter that was sent by Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian to his Russian counterpart Yuri Chayka in January. The letter followed angry street protests in Gyumri where many fear a Russian cover-up of the crime.
A spokesperson for Kostanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian side on Thursday that the two sides are still “discussing” the possibility of Permyakov’s extradition. The official declined to comment further.
A senior Russian lawmaker visiting Gyumri in late March said that Permyakov will be tried in Armenia but by a Russian military court. It remains unclear whether the court will consider DNA samples and other evidence collected by Armenian investigators.