Armenian law-enforcement authorities have completed their criminal investigation into last January’s gruesome killings of the seven members of an Armenian family in Gyumri which were allegedly committed by a Russian soldier serving there.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee said on Tuesday that it has collected “sufficient evidence” to charge Valery Permyakov with murder, armed robbery and an attempt to illegally cross the Armenian-Turkish border. It said it has submitted the findings of the inquiry and the resulting indictment to the Office of the Prosecutor-General.
The prosecutors were quick to announce, for their part, that the high-profile criminal case has already been forwarded to a court in Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province, of which Gyumri is the capital.
Permyakov has been kept under arrest at the Gyumri headquarters of the Russian military base in Armenia ever since being arrested near the Turkish border early on January 13, less than one day after six members of the Avetisian family were found shot dead in their home. The family’s seventh member, a 6-month-old baby boy, died of his stab injuries a week later. Permyakov admitted murdering them during his separate interrogations by Russian and Armenian law-enforcement officials.
Officials in Moscow insisted in the weeks that followed the killings that Permyakov can only be tried by a Russian court because Russia’s constitution prohibits extradition of Russian nationals to foreign states. This stance caused outrage among many Armenians fearing a Russian cover-up of the massacre. Thousands of them demonstrated in Gyumri on January 14-15 to demand Permyakov’s handover to the Armenian side.
The Russian authorities eventually agreed to place the murder case under Armenian jurisdiction. Their change of heart was first announced in late June, coinciding with street protests in Yerevan against electricity price hikes initiated by Armenia’s Russian-owned power distribution network.
The Armenian probe of the massacre gained momentum in August after a Russian military tribunal in Gyumri sentenced Permyakov to 10 years in prison on charges of desertion and theft of firearms and ammunition. In his written testimony read out during the brief trial, the soldier said he decided to desert his unit because he had grown homesick and wanted to reunite with his family living in a small town in eastern Siberia. He claimed to have planned to cross into Turkey with the aim of returning to Russia.
Permyakov also told Russian military prosecutors that he randomly picked the Avetisians’ modest house as he sought to get money and civilian clothes before crossing the frontier. He said he never intended to kill its inhabitants but somehow opened fire out of fear.
In a statement, the Armenian Investigative Committee similarly said that Permyakov broke into the house early in the morning in order to “steal other persons’ possessions.” It said he fired 28 gunshots and stabbed the sleeping baby with a bayonet attached to his rifle before stealing clothes, three mobile phones and 6,000 drams ($13) in cash and fleeing the crime scene.
The law-enforcement body added that the 19-year-old has pleaded guilty to the accusations carrying life imprisonment.
The Shirak court did not immediately announce any dates for the start of what will be one of the most closely watched trials in Armenia’s history.