The Dilemma of State Defense and Self-Destruction

On January 30, Vahram Avagyan, who enlisted in the armed forces of Artsakh six months ago, sustained gunshot wounds which cost his life. The fact itself is agonizing, but what makes it even more heartbreaking is that the incident happened in peaceful conditions, not by an adversary’s shot but one, as Vahram’s relatives believe, fired by a fellow serviceman. To make matters even worse, the year has just started and the month of January saw four such cases. On January 23, two servicemen were mortally wounded in one of the northern military units of the defense army. On Army Day January 28, a third soldier was mortally wounded in a military unit of the defense army stationed in the southeast. Turns out that our sons go to the army in peaceful conditions to defend their state borders, but their right to life is not defended in the same state. And the pathetic delusion of patriotism fizzles out at this very point. 

On January 30, the Investigative Committee of Armenia made a statement on their Facebook page that reads, “On January 30, 2020 at about 1:15 pm, compulsory conscript of the N military unit, private Vahram Mkrtich Avagyan, in the training center shot himself in the chest with the gun attached to him and was moved to military hospital where at 2:00 pm his biological death was recorded.” 

On February 2, the relatives of the deceased soldier from Haytagh village in the Armavir region started to march to Yerevan with the coffin to demand a fair investigation, as they do not believe in the suicide version. Following this act of protest, the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Armenia issued another statement, this time as follows, “Within the criminal case instituted over compulsory conscript of the N military unit, private Vahram Mkrtich Avagyan’s death on January 30, 2020 at about 1:15 pm, three of Avagyan’s fellow servicemen have been arrested – Davit Arakel Movsisyan [author’s note: who as was confirmed later is the son of an ex-Republican MP Arakel Movsisyan, more popular in public circles as Shmays], Khachik Armen Gasparyan and Spartak Artur Avetisyan.”

Clashes erupted between Avagyan’s relatives and police forces who were trying to block the highway before Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan arrived on the scene on the Armavir-Yerevan highway and managed to diffuse the tension by promising a fair investigation. After a private talk with the elderly relatives, there was ample evidence to assume that they reached a mutual understanding, as the crowd   headed back to the village. Without mentioning further details, they only stressed that they trust Tonoyan.

In a press conference on February 3, Zhanna Aleksanyan, head of Journalists for Human Rights, emphasized that the atmosphere of impunity is the key reason for such incidents. She also said that they have factual data that showcase almost all the murder/suicide cases that have happened after soldiers returned to their military stations after vacation. The point is that unwritten rules are at work such as “compulsory impost” requiring the soldiers to pay when they return from home. Aleksanyan was also struck that Vahram Avagyan didn’t ask his family for money, instead going to his aunt who refused.

Head of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor office Artur Sakunts noted that it is about criminal subculture and the officers can’t help but be aware of it. “It is the duty of the state to take full responsibility for their lives when young men are conscripted,” he said. “Here such incidents have become so regular that no one speaks about them,” Sakunts added.

Ara Gharagyozyan, human rights defender at Helsinki Association, mentioned that the commander should be the first person to be arrested, because it is impossible that soldiers in the training center would be left without an overseeing officer and that no one would interfere when the soldier shoots himself in front of his fellow servicemen.  

The government should initiate and bring to fruition overall improvement concepts on military discipline, prevention of criminal norms, humiliation, discrimination and “tax policy” even at the expense of some shoulder straps. It is not such a high price to pay compared to lives wasted, is it? Doesn’t state defense start within the state? Otherwise the instinct of self-destruction is set to be our unrelenting enemy. The corrupted morals we witness are not only a mire that vehemently quells those who are labeled as dissident and who fall prey to its crippled impulses. The lives lost are so important that it would be an affront to even unintentionally diminish them. Instead, those lives, those spirits that protested and fought, deserve to be the parchment on which to write our future. Because heroes are those to whom societies owe their progress. 

Manya Israyelyan

Manya Israyelyan

Manya Israyelyan is a reporter, translator and content writer based in Yerevan, Armenia. She contributes to regional and international publications and covers social, cultural, political and human rights issues and from time to time writes existential stories.
Manya Israyelyan

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