GYUMRI — Hundreds of furious residents of Gyumri marched through Armenia’s second largest city on Wednesday to demand that a Russian soldier accused of killing six members of a local family be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
The protest began with a procession of cars that drove around the city and stopped by key government and security buildings. The protesters went on to walk towards the Gyumri headquarters of a Russian military base in Armenia where the soldier, Valery Permyakov, has been kept since being caught on Monday.
After scuffling with Armenian security forces, they broke through a police cordon to approach the base’s main checkpoint located in the city’s outskirts. The protesters were stopped there by more lines of riot police and about two dozen Russian soldiers standing behind them. Organizers of the protest pleaded with the mostly young and male crowd not to clash with them.
A senior Armenian prosecutor arrived at the scene moments later in a bid to defuse tensions. He urged the crowd to demonstrate elsewhere in Gyumri.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Tuesday that it is “not discussing” Permyakov’s handover with Russian military officials because Russia’s constitution prohibits the extradition of Russian nationals to foreign states. It made no reference to a 1997 treaty regulating the Russian military presence in Armenia.
The treaty stipulates that Russian military personnel in the South Caucasus suspected of committing crimes outside their installations shall be dealt with by Armenian law-enforcement and judicial authorities.
The prosecutors’ explanation angered many Armenians who fear that the Russian military will cover up the gruesome crime. Some of them also consider Russian custody of the suspect a violation of Armenia’s national sovereignty.
Lawyer Norayr Norikian considers reference to Article 61.1 of the Russian Constitution as absurd. “This vicious crime has been committed on the territory of the Republic of Armenia, where the Russian Constitution cannot be applied.”
Norayr Norikian says the murderer should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, up to life imprisonment.
In an apparent response to the Gyumri protest, the Office of the Prosecutor-General issued on Wednesday afternoon a statement saying that it is doing everything to “ensure the inevitability of criminal liability for the crime.”
Another Armenian law-enforcement agency, the Investigative Committee (IC), said it is taking measures to ensure that the ongoing investigation into the killings is “comprehensive, full and objective.” The committee also announced that it has formally indicted Permyakov on corresponding murder charges.
But neither the prosecutors nor the IC clarified whether the Armenian authorities will seek to have custody of the Russian soldier.
“Our demands have not been fulfilled,” Levon Barseghian, one of the organizers of the Gyumri protest, declared after reading out both statements to the angry crowd standing outside the local prosecutors’ headquarters. “The prosecutors have not changed their position voiced yesterday,” he said.
The protesters responding by marching towards the Russian base. They chanted “Shame!” and “We are the masters of our country!” during the protest.
Protest in Yerevan
Residents of Yerevan staged a similar protest action in Liberty Square and marched to the presidential residence demanding that Russian soldier Valery Permaykov must be handed over to the Armenian side.
They also called to announce days of mourning, and promised to come back to the square unless their demand is satisfied. Another action will be staged near Russian Embassy in Yerevan.
“The criminal must be held accountable in Armenia, the investigation should take place in Armenia. We have an agreement with Russia on the deployment of Russian military base which states that if a representative of a military base committed committed a crime on the territory of Armenia, he should be handed over to the Armenian law enforcement agencies,” protester Narek Ayvazyian told Armenian News-NEWS.am.