Soldier Who Killed Six Armenians To Remain Under Russian Jurisdiction
The Russian soldier accused of killing six members of an Armenian family was captured and will be prosecuted under Russian jurisdiction, in spite of the fact that the base agreement between the two countries appears to give Armenia that right.
Valery Permyakov, a Russian conscript, deserted his guard post at the 102nd military base in Gyumri, Armenia, and shot six members of the Avetsiyan family while they slept. About 24 hours, he was captured near the Armenia-Turkey border and reportedly confessed to the crime.
Russian border guards patrol the border between Armenia and Turkey, and it was officers from that force who arrested Permyakov. Armenian authorities announced shortly thereafter that he would be prosecuted by Russia, not by them:
“Valery Permyakov suspected of the crime is a Russian citizen and has been placed under the control of Russian law enforcement agencies, that is under the Russian jurisdiction. Thus, handing over Valery Permyakov to Armenian law enforcement bodies is not discussed considering the ban enshrined in paragraph 1 of Article 61 of the Russian Constitution, which speculates that the Russian citizen cannot be handed over to another country," according to a press release from the office of the General Prosecutor of Armenia.
But it's not clear why the Russian constitution would be the relevant document given that all this happened in Armenia. From the bilateral agreement regulating the presence of the Russian base in Armenia: "On issues of crimes or other violations of the law committed on the territory of the Republic of Armenia by personnel of the Russian military base, and family members of the personnel, the legislation of the Republic of Armenia applies, and its competent organs operate." Exceptions are made for crimes committed on the base property, crimes committed against other Russian base personnel, and war crimes, but none of those would seem to apply here.
But Armenia doesn't seem likely to push the issue. Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian appealed for the issue not to be politicized: "“Yet I believe that there is no need to politicize that incident and look for notes of worsening of Armenian-Russian relations in it. We have quite a high level of political relations with Russia, and our cooperation in the military sphere is also on a high level."
Nevertheless, there have been some attempts at politicization like a demonstration at the Russian embassy in Yerevan demanding that the base commander be held responsible for the crime, and online campaigns to kick the base out of Armenia.
Political analyst Sergey Minasyan says that while many in Armenia believe the case should be tried by the Armenian authorities, the controversy will have little effect overall on bilateral relations because security considerations outweigh everything else.
"Of course, there is a lot of controversy among the Armenian society and in the perceptions of ordinary people, but I am not sure that this terrible incident will have any serious effect on the intergovernmental relations," Minasyan told The Bug Pit. "Even in these conditions the Russian base acts as a security guarantor in the region and relations with Russia are so vital for Armenian security and economic development."
One wonders what would have happened had it been Armenian police, rather than Russian border guards, who captured Permyakov. The way it turned out allows Yerevan to save face, as actually handing the man who committed Armenia's worst crime in recent memory over to foreign authorities would have been an extra dollop of humiliation.
UPDATE: Later on January 14, "thousands" of Gyumri residents protested outside the base, even getting into scuffles with police, demanding that Russian hand Permyakov over to the Armenian authorities. Stay tuned...
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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