GYUMRI—Authorities in Armenia have confirmed the arrest of a yet unnamed Russian soldier for the brutal murder of an Armenian woman.
The 23 year-old serviceman allegedly accosted 57 year-old Julieta Ghukasyan on the morning of December 2nd. Ghukasyan was on her way to work; she was a street sweeper. According to the autopsy report, she was beaten severely. She succumbed to her wounds later that day. The accused Russian contract soldier was arrested eight days later on December 10th. His whereabouts were previously unknown, but he was believed to be on the Russian military base.
Ghukasyan’s daughter Anahit told reporters, “I wish I was blind when I saw my mother’s swollen face.” She was working the same job but on a different street; she did not witness the murder of her mother.
Artur Sakunts from the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly is representing the Ghukasyan family. Sakunts told reporters that the accused soldier has been charged under Article 14, Part 2, Article 112 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia and faces up to 10 years in prison.
The Russian Embassy in Yerevan initially dismissed reports of the murder being committed by a member of the Russian Armed Forces. The embassy later issued a statement urging not to politicize the incident.
This is the third deadly incident involving military personnel from the Russian 102nd Military Base in Gyumri. In 1999, two Russian soldiers opened fire in a central market with automatic weapons, killing two. They were later extradited to Russia and freed. Most recently in 2015, Valery Permyakov, a contract soldier from Siberia, murdered an entire family of seven, including two toddlers. The murder and the ensuing diplomatic incident caused major unrest across the country. Riots broke out in Gyumri and Yerevan when the Armenian prosecutor general announced his agreement to try Permyakov in a Russian military court, despite a standing bilateral agreement giving Armenia jurisdiction on the matter.
The Russian Defence Ministry has faced criticism for not properly vetting contract soldiers before international deployments.
The murder threatens to further strain relations between Armenia and its traditional ally Russia. Ever since the Velvet Revolution brought Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract to power, there has been an air of uncertainty between Moscow and Yerevan. The Kremlin and Pashinyan’s critics have accused him of being “pro-western” in the past. However, as Prime Minister, Pashinyan has been careful in his dealings with Russia.
Last week, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov announced a planned agreement committing Armenia to ban the presence of foreign military personnel within its borders. This restriction presumably exempts the 102nd military base.
So far, no motive has been announced in the Gyumri murder, but the suspect is scheduled to stand trial next week.