14 people hospitalized, 13 detained
GYUMRI (RFE/RL) — Hundreds of angry people clashed with riot police outside the Russian consulate in the Armenian city of Gyumri late on Thursday on the second day of protests against the killing of a local family committed by a Russian soldier.
The protesters gathered outside the diplomatic mission as they continued to demand that the suspect kept at the Russian military base in Gyumri be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
Security forces in full riot gear fired tear gas and stun grenades and used truncheons to stop them from approaching the consulate compound.
The protesters responded with a hail of stones thrown at several rows of riot police. An Armenian opposition parliamentarian, Zaruhi Postanjian, begged them to back away and avoid further violence.
An RFE/RL correspondent witnessed several people injured in the melee. Ambulances carried away some of them from the scene.
The demonstrators, most of them youths, agreed to march back to the city center only after being addressed by another lawmaker, Martun Grigorian, who represents a Gyumri constituency in the Armenian parliament. “It’s a deadlock, my dear people,” he told them. “Calm down and move on.”
The angry crowd marched to the consulate after a peaceful demonstration staged outside the local prosecutors’ office. About 2,000 people gathered there late in the afternoon to demand that Valery Permyakov, the detained soldier who has confessed to the killings, be handed over to Armenian law-enforcement authorities or at least be tried by an Armenian court.
Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian emerged from the heavily guarded building to assure the protesters that he will seek to ensure that Permyakov is tried by an Armenian court. “As prosecutor-general and a man, I am telling you that I will definitely appeal to Russia’s prosecutor-general with that demand,” Kostanian said.
Many protesters applauded him in response. But they grew increasingly skeptical as the protest went on.
Earlier, Kostanian said only that Permyakov will stand trial in Armenia. Many protesters feared that the case will be heard by a Russian military tribunal in Yerevan.
Archbishop Mikael Ajapahian, the head of the local diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, was on hand to calm the crowd, saying that its demands must be redirected to the Russian authorities. “We demand that they hand over the criminal to Armenian law-enforcement authorities. But the object of our demands is not here,” he said.
The appeal fell on deaf ears, however, with many participants of the rally heading to the Russian consulate general. Ajapahian berated a smaller number of demonstrators when they again rallied outside the prosecutors’ building after the violence which he blamed on “provocateurs.” “Go home,” he told them before entering the building for more talks with Kostanian.
Postanjian and Grigorian came out of the building at around the same time. They both told the remaining protesters that Kostanian stands by his pledge to appeal to his Russian counterpart. But they said the prosecutor has yet to decide when to send the official petition to Moscow.
Grigorian also announced that the Russian base command has agreed to allow him and one of the protest leaders to visit the base and see that Permyakov has not been secretly flown out of Armenia.
The protesters demanded video evidence of Permyakov remaining in the country before the violent confrontation near the Russian consulate. Kostanian pledged to help secure such evidence, while insisting that Armenian law-enforcement officers are now questioning Permyakov.
In his first appearance at Thursday’s rally, Kostanian said only that Permyakov will stand trial in Armenia. The protesters dismissed that statement, saying the case must not be heard by a Russian military tribunal in Yerevan.
The gruesome killing of six members of the Gyumri family also sparked smaller demonstrations outside the presidential palace, Kostanian’s offices and the Russian Embassy in the Armenian capital. About 100 people rallied outside the embassy building in downtown Yerevan on Thursday. Police detained two activists there after one of them attempted to burn a Russian flag.
Another, spontaneous protest broke out in Yerevan’s Liberty Square late in the evening, shortly after news of the Gyumri clashes spread across Armenia. Over a dozen of them were detained by plainclothes police officers. The latter refused to explain the arrests.