Questions Remain Unanswered for the Fate of Confessed Killer of Gyumri Family

Special for the Armenian Weekly

YEREVAN—Tensions run high and sorrow besets the Armenian nation one week after the senseless killings of now seven victims in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri. Valery Permyakov, who confessed to murdering the Avetisyan family, remains under arrest on the Russian military base where he was serving. Just where he will finally be tried and by what tribunal—Armenian or Russian—are still being deliberated upon at this hour.

A scene from the funeral service of six members of the Avetisyan family. Jan. 15, 2015. (Photo: Photolur)
A scene from the funeral service of six members of the Avetisyan family. Jan. 15, 2015. (Photo: Photolur)

In a phone conversation with President Serge Sarkisian on Jan. 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his assurances that a proper investigation and subsequent outcome would be realized. He also offered his condolences to the survivors of the deceased and the entire Armenian nation.

That same day the presidential press service issued a statement from Sarkisian reiterating that all the investigative bodies were devoting their utmost attention to uncovering the motive for the killings.

The president of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Alexandr Bastrikin, flew to Yerevan on Jan. 19 to meet Aghvan Hovsepyan, chairman of the Investigative Committee of Armenia, to discuss matters related to legal jurisdiction for prosecuting Permyakov.

Preliminary investigations revealed that 18-year-old Permyakov apparently entered the home by breaking the glass window in the front door before killing six members of the Avetisyan family and harming six-month-old boy Seryozha, who suffered stab wounds to the chest that led to his death a week later. Another report stated that Permyakov told interrogators he randomly picked the Avetisyan home in search of water. Those slain included a married couple, their daughter, son, daughter in law, and a granddaughter—only two years old.

Seryozha died on Jan. 19 from organ failure, despite hopeful signs and a successful surgery performed in Yerevan. Putin had conveyed that if necessary a special aircraft would be dispatched to send Seryozha, who was the sole survivor of the attack, to Moscow for additional medical treatment.

Permyakov is from Siberia and only began serving as an enlisted soldier on the Gyumri military base two months ago.

On Jan. 10, he left the Russian base to go for a stroll through Gyumri, according to his own testimony, with an assault rifle and two loaded magazines. He claimed to have entered the Avetisyan residence located just two kilometers from the base without knowing whether anyone was home. Bizarrely, purportedly none of the neighbors heard gunshots. According to Raffi Aslanian, the chief prosecutor of Armenia’s Shirak province, the victims were found in their beds.

Permyakov was captured by law enforcement officers after trying to cross the Turkish border 12 hours after the murders were committed. Speaking to the newspaper 168 Zham, Tamara Yayloyan, a defense attorney who was assigned to defend Permyakov but resigned shortly after hearing his initial testimony, stated that the gunman could not explain why he committed the murders.

According to Yayloyan, after Permyakov was asked why he opened fire, “He said, ‘I don’t know, they made noise, one of them reached for a mobile phone and I opened fire.’ When asked why he stabbed the babies he said, ‘I don’t know.’ He responded to almost every question with ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I can’t explain.’”

The Avetisyan family funeral, which was held on Jan. 15, was attended by hundreds of people. Colonel Alexey Polyukhovich, a deputy commander of the Gyumri military base, National Assembly President Galust Sahakian, and many Armenian officials were also present.

Prosecutor-general Gevorg Kostanian revealed in a press conference on Jan. 15 that although Permyakov will not be extradited, both Russian and Armenian special criminal investigative teams will work hand in hand to carry out the investigation.

As of Jan. 19 a final decision on extradition has yet to be made, despite the fact that Russian soldiers serving on the military base who commit crimes are subject to Armenian law-enforcement and judicial bodies, per a bilateral treaty signed in 1997 between Armenia and Russia.

Permyakov will be kept under custody on the Russian military base until the trial venue has been determined. It remains unclear as to whether Permyakov will be prosecuted by a Russian military tribunal in Yerevan or by an Armenian court.

Protesters in Gyumri and Yerevan have been making several demands, including having the Russian military base closed and insisting that Permyakov be turned over to Armenian law enforcement.

Two thousand protesters reportedly assembled during the afternoon on Jan. 15 in Gyumri, while several hundred people clashed with police there near the Russian consulate that same evening, resulting in 14 people being wounded, including 5 policemen, and 13 detained, according to Public Radio of Armenia. Later RFE/RL reported those wounded included 18 officers and 10 citizens, while 21 mostly male protesters were detained. All of them were released the next day. A small protest was also held in front of the Russian Embassy in Yerevan on Jan. 15.

After Seryozha’s death was announced, Armenian police dispatched numerous officers to Gyumri to secure government buildings and Russian sites in anticipation of renewed protests.

Adding insult to injury, a Russian social media group known as “Anti-Maidan: Armenia,” started an online pro-Permyakov campaign calling for the perpetrator to be brought under Russian protection and encouraging violence on all Armenians who demand a trial on Armenian soil. The group has purportedly proclaimed Permyakov a “prisoner of conscience.”

International vigils for the Avetisyan family have been held as far away as Los Angeles and as close by as Tbilisi. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter have served as grieving forums where peers share their outrage, frustration, and sadness for the tragic events of the past week.

“There is a saying in Armenian, ‘tsavet tanem,’ but now more than ever and in their most literal sense, those words ring in my heart,” wrote one Facebook poster, Alina Aghajanian of Los Angeles, who was a Birthright Armenia volunteer working in Gyumri in 2014. “I wish I could take your pain away. Though 2015 started with tragedy and uncertainty, your voices are clear for all those listening to and supporting Gyumri,” she wrote.

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Christian Garbis

Christian Garbis is a writer and experimental filmmaker born and raised in Greater Boston. He received his BA in English and Certificate in Film Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has been contributing to the Armenian Weekly since 1994 and has served as an assistant editor for the paper. He lives in Yerevan with his wife and son and maintains two blogs documenting his impressions: Notes From Hairenik and Footprints Armenia. His first novel is partly based on his experiences in Armenia.

7 Comments

  1. I strongly believe that there are hidden motives in this massacre as there are too many suspicious and unanswered questions.I go further and say that this Russian soldier is the fall guy as behind him are the real motivators for this crime which I strongly suspect Turkey/Azeri axis of evil through religious sects.

    The whole idea was to decouple the Armenian/Russian military and economical alliance through this criminal act and also create animosity between the two friendly people.

  2. How extremely irrational it is that those protesters would demand the closing of that Russian military base, which would obviously jeopardize Armenia’s national security. On the other hand, those protesters have every right to demand that Permyakov be turned over to Armenian law enforcement. After murdering seven people (including a six-month-old baby) on Armenian soil, outside the Russian military base, it would be extremely irrational for him to be prosecuted by a Russian military tribunal instead of an Armenian court.

    “In a phone conversation with President Serge Sarkisian on Jan. 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his assurances that a proper investigation and subsequent outcome would be realized.” Well, this sounds like the Russians are going to decide what will take place in regard to Permyakov, and that’s just not right.

  3. Thank you for a balanced and well informed report.
    From the facts presented so far, this tragic crime seems difficult to explain or rationalize.
    Does the fact that Permyakov was trying to escape to Turkey (and was caught at the border) indicate perhaps some collusion with authorities there, or at least with some group or individuals there who have an interest in destroying the present friendship between Russia and Armenia?

  4. There are a lot of unanswered questions, and yet I fear that if this case is turned into a Russian case, like Russia wants it, we may not find out what is necessary and there may be something suspicious and sinister at play here. First and foremost, in no circumstance must the criminal murderer be allowed to leave Armenia. Not before, during or after being tried. In addition, the criminal needs to be placed through several trials independently in order to satisfy all parties involved.

    Although I don’t support closing the Russian base or politicizing this case, I do believe that the case must be handled by Armenia. When Putin “gave his assurances that a proper investigation and subsequent outcome would be realized”, I thought that was rather insulting actually. Why? As if Armenia is incapable of doing it? Putin needs to be reminded that Gyumri is an Armenian city, not a Russian one, and each and every Russian stationed there is under Armenian jurisdiction, and subject to prosecution by Armenia with any criminal conduct.

    And what is the worth of being “severely punished” if this criminal will simply be given life in jail? That is simply not an appropriate punishment and in that case I think justice would not be served, not by a long shot, and I suspect Russia will try to do this and accept minimal responsibility for itself. Since Armenia does not have the death penalty, I also feel that this criminal who committed these barbaric and senseless murders with no regard for human life needs to be made an example of for all others: upon proper interrogation and conviction, make exceptions for such heinous and barbaric crimes involving military personnel and give this worthless psychopathic punk the death sentence.

  5. Some thoughts:

    1. On jurisdiction.

    Clearly at least two charges apply: one, his desertion of the post; and two, the premeditated murder of 7 Armenian civilians, two of whom are infants.
    So two separate trials must take place: Russia can try him for the desertion if they want, and Armenia must try him for the mass-murder, including two infants.
    In particular, little Seryozha Avetisyan was tortured to death: he was stabbed with a knife, didn’t die instantly, and struggled for life for several days. The unbearable pain thus inflicted on the infant can be classified as being tortured to death.

    Since the 7 counts of murder are clearly _the_ most serious charge, the suspect – who has confessed – must serve his time for the murders in Armenia.

    According to ITAR-TASS (Jan 21, 2015):

    {Russian soldier Valery Permyakov,…,will go on trial in Russia because he is a Russian citizen, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.
    “Since he is a citizen of Russia he is naturally subjected to laws of the Russian Federation and it will be a Russian trial,” Peskov said in an interview with local Gyumri television channel Gala TV. “The trial will be in Russia and in this case the Russian legislature has no mercy to such monstrous crimes.”}

    This Peskov guy is either insane or was drunk when he bloviated that illogical nonsense.
    That’s not how it works: some foreigner commits a crime on US territory, they are charged under US laws, not the laws of their own country
    And apparently Peskov forgot that RoA citizen Hrachya Harutyunyan was tried in Russia under Russian laws and is serving time in a Russian jail*.
    His bosses need to tell the idiot to shut his trap.

    2. On the protests.

    The peaceful protests were proper and necessary to show everyone – friend and foe – that Armenians are not to be stepped on.
    However, it was clear that there is a permanent cadre of foreign-funded agitators that are just sitting around, and waiting for any opportunity to cause bloodshed. (the Gyumri Archbishop (Շիրակի թեմի առաջնորդ Միքայել եպիսկոպոս Աջապահյան) bluntly told the few hooligans: “you are not from Gyumri, get out of here….”)
    The immediate relatives of the murdered family said on video that they want to know what happened and why Permyakov did it, but are absolutely against any kind of violence in their name.
    I have to say their demeanor while being interviewed was beyond anything I would normally expect in such a situation: their quiet dignity and highly civilized attitude towards the mass-murderer frankly was something to behold and remember in perpetuity.

    3. On politicization.

    I agree with [Hagop D] that Armenian side is not the only one that should be expected not to politicize this.
    Russians are notoriously ham handed in these kinds of delicate situations.**
    But, in this case they need to bend over backwards not to inadvertently cause any lasting damage between two crucial allies.
    It’s not like they give a hoot about their conscripts anyway: why risk a mutually beneficial strategic relationship for one cannon-fodder ?

    4. Rumormongering

    Lots of rumors floating about in Armenian and Russian language sites.
    Apparently Permyakov’s family follows some kind of a Christian offshoot cult (?).
    One of the Avetisyan fathers apparently had worked in the city where Permyakov is from, and may have had contacts with the Permyakov clan.

    —-
    * Apparently there is an effort by RoA authorities to extradite HH to Armenia to serve his time. Is this wise ?
    Won’t Russia then request a quid-pro-quo and ask RoA to extradite Permyakov to Russia after he is sentenced by an Armenian court ?

    ** Putin was President during the sinking of the Kursk Submarine, with the loss of 118 men.
    He was roundly criticized for his mishandling of the tragedy and its aftermath. The grieving relatives of the dead men were treated with disdain by Russian officials. I recall seeing on video one of the screaming women at the meeting being forcibly injected a sedative by a nurse and taken out of the meeting when she went limp.

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