GYUMRI, Armenia (A.W.)—On July 17, around 30 people gathered near the Russian Consulate in Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia, with two messages for the Russian representative: First, they wished to honor the memory of the 18 people killed in a car accident in Moscow on July 13, when a truck crashed into a bus. Second, they wanted to voice their condemnation of the discriminatory treatment that the truck driver, Hrachya Harutyunyan, 46, had received by the Russian court and the media.
Harutyunyan, a Karabagh War veteran, was taken to court straight from the hospital. According to reports, he was treated poorly and, more significantly, was forced to wear women’s garments—a colorful bathrobe and slippers—at his court appearance. Members of the Russian media have also been accused of racism in their reporting of the accident.
It is still unclear why the truck veered off course and crashed. Some have speculated that a mechanical issue might have been the cause, leaving the truck owner, and not the driver, at fault.
One of the demonstrators, activist Esmarida Poghosian, 25, expressed her outrage at the way Russian authorities had treated Harutyunyan. “What brought me here is the injustice and racism towards our citizen in Russia. He is not being treated properly as a human being. This is a serious violation of human rights.”
After placing flowers and candles by the fence surrounding the consulate, demonstrators demanded that Consul General Vasili Korchmar meet with them. Korchmar was ready to accept just one of them, a consulate employee said. The demonstrators refused the offer, demanding that at least three people be allowed in, and the meeting be held in the presence of the media.
After waiting for over an hour for a response, the demonstrators hung a woman’s robe on the fence. The police interfered and the robe was immediately removed. One young man brought along a shirt with the Armenian blazon on it, in an attempt to show Harutyunyan that he is not alone, that he is supported by Armenian citizens.
Some have criticized the late and inadequate reaction of the Armenian authorities, who failed to defend their citizen abroad.
As time went on, the demonstrators grew impatient and began chanting, “Korchmar come out!” “Shame on you!” and “Leopold come out!” (The latter was a reference to a famous Russian cartoon hero.)
“Though I do not think that our demonstration will have a very positive result or that we’ll get answers to our questions, it is our duty nonetheless to come here and support our citizen in Russia,” said Vardouhi Mouradyan, a 25-year-old student.
Observers are skeptical that the recent demonstrations near the Russian Embassy in Yerevan and the Consulate in Gyumri will lead to larger anti-Putin demonstrations. “I don’t think that these complaints or demands can lead to an anti-Putin movement because Armenia, unfortunately, is still very connected to Russian industry and economy… I don’t think that Armenian civic activists are ready to create or turn this into a wider anti-Putin movement; rather, maybe something against the imperialistic behavior of Russia,” said Levon Barseghyan, the president of the Board of Asbarez Journalists Club and a member of the Gyumri Municipal Council.
As Consul General Korchmar failed to meet with demonstrators, the crowd dispersed after agreeing to return the following day to raise their voices once again.