Yerevan Hands Over to Russia Soldier Convicted of Murdering Six Armenians
A Russian soldier convicted of murdering six members of an Armenian family will be transferred to Russia to carry out his life sentence, demonstrating the influence Moscow continues to enjoy in its much smaller Caucasian ally.
Armenia's Ministry of Justice announced on May 18 that it would send the soldier, Valeriy Permyakov, to Russia. Permyakov was convicted of killing the Armenians in January 2015 after he had fled the Russian 102nd military base in Gyumri, Armenia's second city.
The case became a touchstone for Armenia-Russia relations, and led to unprecedented protests in Gyumri and Yerevan against the Russian military presence in the country. The Russian presence is largely welcomed in Armenia, as protection against Turkey and Azerbaijan, but lately there has been increasing resentment of Russia's heavyhanded behavior in Armenia. Russia had originally wanted to try Permyakov in a military court on the base, but the protests led Moscow to back down and allow him to be tried in an Armenian court.
The reaction from Armenia to this latest news has been muted, save for some social media grumbling about Armenia's lack of sovereignty vis-a-vis Russia.
The Armenian announcement did take pains to note that Russia has guaranteed the full implementation of Permyakov's sentence. In 2011, Hungary extradited back to Baku an Azerbaijani soldier who had been convicted of killing an Armenian soldier at a NATO exercise in 2004. Azerbaijan then pardoned the soldier and gave him a hero's welcome, which outraged Armenians.
"When a person convicted of a crime is transferred to his country of citizenship, that isn't a violation of the dignity of the country," said MP of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia and former general prosecutor of Armenia, Gevork Kostanyan. "Over the years many Armenians have been transferred to carry out their sentences here. This doesn't mean that the dignity of the other country was offended. We can not take this as offensive, since it's just about a legal process," Kostanyan said, in what sounded a bit like protesting too much.
The one public protest appeared to be from the family of those murdered. "Now we don't know what will happen to him [Permyakov] from now on, if they transfer him to Russia," said Lusine Avetisyan, a relative of the family, in an interview with -- of course -- U.S.-government-funded Current Time TV. "Maybe one day they'll just let him go or declare that he's gone."
Previously members of the Avetisyan family have tried to get the court to reexamine the case, in the belief that Permyakov couldn't have acted alone, but that appeal was denied in April. Now Lusine Avetsiyan said the family intends to continue to pursue the case. "We are ready to take this to the European Court of Human Rights. We are not going to stay quiet."
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.