The charred bodies of 15 conscripts were recovered after a major fire destroyed their makeshift barracks located in Azat, a village in Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik province. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Defense Minister Suren Papikian said hours later that the fire was sparked by an officer who poured gasoline into a woodstove in breach of the military’s fire-safety rules.
The officer, Captain Yeghishe Hakobian, suffered serious burns and was hospitalized before being indicted and placed under arrest last month. Two other, more high-ranking officers were also arrested. They are accused of failing to enforce the safety rules at the barracks.
The families of the vast majority of the victims distrust the criminal investigation into what was one of the deadliest ever non-combat incidents registered in the Armenian army ranks. They believe that their sons were either dead or unconscious when the fire erupted at the village house turned into barracks.
The parents blocked traffic through the Yerevan-Sevan highway for a few hours after attending more forensic actions carried out by investigators in Azat. They demanded a meeting with Pashinian and Papikian.
“For three months, the parents have been trying in vain to meet with the prime minister or the defense minister,” their lawyer, Norayr Norikian, said on Wednesday.
“What happened before the fire? We don’t have an answer to this question,” Norikian said.
“Our desire is to find out the truth. We don’t want anything else from them,” said Sedrak Gharibian, whose son Taron died just three weeks before his planned demobilization.
“But they won’t tell us,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “This means that they have some secret.”
Pashinian has stood by the official version of the deaths, denying a cover-up. Gegharkunik Governor Karen Sargsian said later on Wednesday that the prime minister will not meet the soldiers’ parents until the ongoing investigation is complete.