One Soldier’s Tragedy, an Entire Nation’s Shame

“The citizens of the Republic of Armenia shall be under the protection of the
Republic of Armenia within the territory of the Republic of Armenia and beyond its borders.”
–Article 11.3, Constitution of the Republic of Armenia


They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

A few weeks ago one picture sent shockwaves throughout Armenia and the diaspora. It was of a man dressed in a colorful robe and slippers, sitting behind bars in a Russian courtroom. His unshaven face, the lines on his forehead, his desperate gaze painting a haunting portrait.

Hrachya Haroutyounian
Hrachya Haroutyounian

The man was Hrachya Harutyunyan, a citizen of the Republic of Armenia and an Artsakh freedom fighter. Harutyunyan was working as a truck driver in Russia when his vehicle collided into a bus, causing the death of 18 people and injuring many others, including himself. He had traveled to Russia just a few months before the incident to earn enough money to afford a tombstone for his dead son, who had himself served in the army. The degrading treatment he received by Russian law enforcement officials led to widespread anger in Armenia and protests in front of Russian diplomatic representations in both Yerevan and Gyumri.

The initial outrage over Harutyunyan’s treatment was quickly overshadowed by the spontaneous citizen movement against the Yerevan public transport price hike. While media in Armenia are still reporting on the issue, the hype around it died as quickly as it reached its peak. Nevertheless, from the moment it was circulated, that infamous image continued to occupy my mind because Harutyunyan’s tragedy epitomizes so many of the issues facing Armenia today: poverty, emigration, neglected citizenry, even the consequences of an alliance where one party has disproportionate power over the other.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to 2011 World Bank estimates, 35 percent of Armenia’s population lived below the poverty line. That’s more than one in three people. The latest official figures on emigration reveal a new outward wave, with more than 200,000 people believed to have left Armenia in the last 5 years.

Hrachya Harutyunyan’s unfortunate fate is ultimately the consequence of the Armenian government’s failure to care for its citizens, not least its soldiers and war veterans, and to safeguard their right for a decent life upheld and protected by the rule of law.

It is true that since Harutyunyan’s court appearance, the government has tried to make representation to the Russian authorities on his behalf. However, Harutyunyan should never have been in Moscow in the first place. When we have a prime minister who owns offshore accounts and a Catholicos who owns bus routes, by no standard is it acceptable for a soldier—who has put his life on the line for his country—to resort to unfriendly foreign shores for the price of a tombstone for another, deceased soldier.

Yes, the government failed Hrachya Harutyunyan, just like it has failed the thousands who have left Armenia and those that are deciding to leave with every new dawn.

It also failed a freedom fighter just like it has failed many of his comrades in arms.

Since May, Artsakh war heroes have been staging frequent sit-ins in Yerevan, Gyumri, and most recently in Vartenis to protest their harsh socio-economic conditions and demand government support for basic living expenses.

It is both ironic and symbolic that Harutyunyan was subjected to such treatment in no other country than an ally that has so much economic, military and political interests in Armenia. It not only highlights the vulnerability of Russia’s Armenian community, but also serves as another powerful reminder of the dynamics underlying the partnership between the two countries.

While there is no question that Harutyunyan deserved more dignified treatment by Russian law enforcement officials, the bigger issue here remains the Armenian government’s treatment of its own citizens. It is ultimately the government that sets the standard and example for how its citizens are to be regarded. The Armenian government would do well to start living up to its constitutional responsibility of protecting its citizens and safeguarding their rights. Only then can we avoid new Hrachya Harutyunyans, Hrach Muradyans, Vahe Avetians, new non-combat deaths in the army and, yes, possibly even new emigrants.

As Harutyunyan undergoes trial in Moscow, his tragedy will remain a low point for our entire nation.


Houry Mayissian

Houry Mayissian

Houry Mayissian is a communications professional with journalism and public relations experiences in Dubai, Beirut, and Sydney. She has studied European politics and society at the University of Oxford, specializing on the democratic reform process in Armenia as part of its European integration. She is currently based in Yerevan.


  1. And what is the ARF doing about it .The so called champion of Armenian freedom.What are the other opposition parties doing about it.The opposition parties have become a bunch of chikens.

  2. If the ARF is doing something about it – it definitely would not be publicized and you of course would not know about it.

  3. ARF is still fighting the 1915 war, while Armenia and its people are in the brinks of extinction. I get it, donations from the diaspora don’t come when you tell stories like this, they come when you sing patriotic songs. Hay Qajer, whatever is left of your land will soon be sold by oligarchs, politicians and certain clergy…

    • Yes the ARF is still fighting the 1915 war… as it should. And yes Armenia and its people are in trouble, no thanks to the ARF, but to those that have traditionally held a hostile view of the ARF and have not given it a fair chance. The ARF has had its mistakes and faults, but judging from our history I would say it is the least of all the others.

  4. Houry–you have written a powerful article. The circumstances of Hrachya Harutyunyan’s situation reads like a “Greek” dramatic tragedy from so many angles…sadly, it is an “Armenian” contemporary tragedy.

  5. Ales, We Armenian always want to find a reason to hate ourselves. We are always criticizing ourselves. Did you compare yourself with other best nations? Be sure they are not better than us if you know about their cultures and governments. We are a small nation in war with Azerbaijan. We have a small and poor land (from mining and agricultural view), we don’t have way to open ocean to trade without counties. Azerbaijan spent 3.7 billion dollars for weapons only for the last year. The Armenian government should spend billions dollars for weapons too. Instead of criticizing ourselves, find ways to grow our nation.

    • Ed, I fully agree with the spirit of your comment. But the criticism you are warning about is against the ‘Armenian state’ and not against Armenians per se. It is this criticism against the state as well as a general lack of appreciating Armenian statehood that is behind many of Armenia’s failures. Therefore, generally speaking, Armenians are at fault and should be criticized for not standing behind their less-than-ideal state/government as Turks, Jews and others do…

      PS: Also note that Diasporan propaganda publications such as this, as well as their “expert” contributors, are pushing for a Western, Globalist agenda that will in the long run prove more devastating for Armenia than Bolshevik rule.

  6. This is a great, albeit sad, story for delusional Armenians who think Russia is our best friend. When Armenia was truly independent, thanks to Tashnags, Ataturk had agreements with Russia who provided military support to the Turks to fight the Armenians. Then apparent brain-dead Bolshevist Armenians welcomed the Soviets to occupy the land, who then molested the Armenian culture and identity. There is no independent Armenia anymore. Russia was never our friend. They need the Caucasus for oil and to have influence over Persia. That is all.

    • How long did “truly independent, thanks to Tashnags” 1st Armenian republic last ?
      How long did non-independent 2nd Republic, Armenia SSR, last (and thrive) ?
      How long has the 3rd Armenian Republic lasted so far and still going strong ?
      Which republic was it that helped liberate Artsakh from the Azerbaijani Turkic yoke and ensure that 150,000 Armenians there would not be exterminated by AzeriTatarTurks ?
      Which republic was it that has actually increased – not lost – strategic land depth of the Armenian homeland ?

      You can be “truly independent” and get swept away, independent or not, or you can have strategic dependence on a powerful country, and use the security provided to make your country stronger: it is done all over the world.
      No country of 3 million can be truly independent in a region where Armenia is.
      Even a country with the size, population, and location of Ukraine is dependent on Russia, for example.

    • James, you are right about the sordid history which is always inconvenient to bring up for certain Armenians who have turned Russia into their new religion, but we can always have hope that Russia will one day prove our suspicions wrong, that is to say to those of us who wish for our nation to be truly independent and free one day. My observations of Russian politics lately has bothered me a lot, but I am not ready to give up hope, because I also understand that it would spell disaster for Armenia. The decision we were forced into previously still holds true today. We chose the lesser of two evils, and as you suggested, were duped by not knowing that the two evils in fact were working together. But I would say that since the downfall of the Soviet Union, positive changes have taken place in Russia. Russia is slowly returning back to its Christian heritage, and this is why I cling to hope, because in the future this can only mean positive things for Armenia should things progress on this path.

  7. @James,

    If it wasn’t for Russia you and your “Tashnak” friends would still be riding donkeys in the arid mountains of eastern Turkey or northern Iran.

    PS: Where do all you delusional “nationalists” come from?

    PS: If this Hrachya character was found to have broken any traffic laws that led to the deaths of eighteen innocent people in Russia, he should be locked up forever.

    • Dear “Harutik” – seeing that you have an excellent command of history and based on your brilliant and in-depth historical analysis, could you please clarify your comment regarding the Russians?
      Would those be the kind of Russians who would have provided those donkeys along with guns to the Turks so they can take those “arid mountains of eastern Turkey” from Armenia, or the kind of Russians who confiscated all Armenian church properties before that to prevent an Armenian nation from forming, after which our “Tashnak” friends still managed to form the first Armenia after several centuries?
      PS: us delusional “nationalists” do not think of ourselves as “nationalists” – that is a FOREIGN label – we think of ourselves as ‘Armenians’ who are interested in the freedom of our people and nation.

  8. Wow, Harutik .. great independent thinking. I know you probably cringe hearing this coming from an Azeri. And not to hijack your point, I’d add that Armenian Republic would not indeed be there without Russia. In 1800s, Russia essentially carved out a land for Armenia in Caucasus, transferring Armenians from Iran and Turkey. This is not to say that there had been no Armenians in Caucasus prior to that, but the Russian greatly increased the density and consolidated their habitats. This was done to create a buffer against Turkish and Iranian influences.

    @And Avery, am I right to see you here admit that Armenia owes its existence to Russia and would be swiped aside without it? I thought you thought you guys were super-brave and effective warriors against the Azeris and Turks, whom you say helped Azb in Karabak war. Glad to see that you are realistic enough to realize this dependence on Russia.

    Having said the above, I agree with the pro-Russia Armenians. Stick with Russia. On the other hand, you cannot rely on others for survival. As you can see from the way Armenians (and Azeris) are treated in Russia, they don’t really love you for who you are. It is just a strategic game for them. And in strategic games, there are always pawns. Another thing to keep an eye for … After the Iran war, Russia’s influence may be greatly diminished in Caucasus. It is not likely, but possible that the West/NATO may find itself in Caucasus, either thru Georgia or Azb. The picture might get especially interesting if the South and North Azerbaijan get together somehow. Imagine what a bonus it would be for West to kick Russia out of Caucasus … all that oil, Central Asian gas, proximity to Middle East, etc. Will Russia fight for a spot? And even if so, why not try to get a deal with the then more powerful Azerbaijan? As a TRULY independent country, we don’t and will not have their troops here. But other arrangements of alliance can be worked out.

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