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.
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.