Polite People* in Armenia: Russian Soldier Shoots Sleeping Family in their own House in Gyumri

*explanation for “Polite people”

1
версия на русском
en castellano

January 12, early morning, a local family of seven is shot from AK-74 machine-gun in Gyumri, Armenia. The family members included Seryozha Avetisyan (born in 1961), Hasmik Avetisyan (born in 1959), Aida Avetisyan (born in 1979), Armen Avetisyan (1981) and Araksia Poghosyan (born in 1990). Two-year-old Hasmik Avetisyan was killed with a knife and 7-month-old Seryozha Avetisyan survived knife injuries and is currently hospitalized in the intensive care unit.

A relative, who dropped by their house, found them all dead in their beds. Later on, a neighbour informed that around 6am she heard some commotion and a scream, however she thought that the neighbours were calming their new-born down, who might have been awakened by the insignificant earthquake, which is no surprise in this mountainous region. She also said that the family of the Avetisyans did not have a habit of locking their gates as they had nobody to be afraid of, they had no enemies. A machine-gun, army uniform and boots were found in the house with the inscription of private Valery Permyakov, who was serving in the military base located in the city and whose command confirmed his disappearance.

Incidents such as this one and connected with the military servants of the Russian Federation are not infrequent in Gyumri. Two years ago, two children were blown to pieces on a mine on the training field in the vicinity of the military base. The field was not fenced, nonetheless, the command of the military based not only never punished anyone, but also ignored the official complaints of the locals. In 1999, two drunk soldiers, armed with AK-74 machine-guns, went into the town and started a gunfire at whoever would come across their road. As a result, 2 men, Vaghinak Simonyan and David Soghomonyan were killed and 14 were injured. Both soldiers was tried in Guymri in Armenian court and was sentenced to 14 and 15 years prison. However, after few years they was transferred to Russia. Here u can read more. Frequent are also the cases when the Russian soldiers drink and open fire in restaurants and threaten the locals.

The presence of the Russian armed forces in Armenia is justified by “security” from a potential attack from difficult neighbors. Whereas the Russian officials openly declare that the main purpose of the dislocation of a military based in Gyumri is the “…protection of the southern flank of Russia” and only afterwards it is “ensuring security to Armenia as part of obligations under the Collective Security Treaty Organization”. The presence of Russian military bases in Armenia and the one particularly in Gyumri is perceived as a safeguard foremost against Turkey‘s threat. This rhetoric has an even stronger impact due to the collective memories about Armenian Genocide, which is still not accepted as such by Turkey and the centennial of which will be marked this year.

Despite the fact that armed tensions and an actual military conflict is waged on the unpeaceful border with Azerbaijan, the Russian military base does not participate in the protection of that part of the border. The regular and particularly more frequent armed incidents on this part of the border are reminiscent of the bloody war waged over Nagorno Karabakh. According to the renewed treaty between Russia and Armenia of 2011, the presence of the Russian bases in Armenia is prolonged until 2044 with an expanded list of privileges. In reality, the Russian forces are controlling the Armenian borders not only to Turkey, but also to Iran. Around 5,000 army personnel of the Russian Federation are dispatched in the military base N102 in the second largest city of Armenia.

Russia takes advantage of the situation that Armenia and Azerbaijan are fighting against each other first by selling both countries arms worth of billions of dollars and secondly by using its armed forces as a leverage for influencing Armenia’s politics. Internally, the local politicians are taking advantage of the military threat in order to unite the population around a nationalistic ideology and in order to ensure that any social protest is dead upon arrival. All social and political changes are put off until the times when the Karabakh conflict is resolved and the threat of the war is gone. In the meantime, poverty and economic stalemate offer no other alternative than labor migration to the same Russia.

Is it worth mentioning that the presence of the Russian army in Armenia is accompanied by the expansion of the Russian capital and any conversation about the “savior” Russia amongst the political elite of Armenia is entrenched in corruption and the opportunity to take part in pillaging the resources out of the country. By the way, “the cultural component” is not omitted by Russia either. In the summer of 2013, the well-known Dmitry Kiselyov2 declared in his official and public visit to the Parliament of Armenia that the question of security and language are directly interlinked and that the Russian language should be given a status of an official language3. Russian is the mother tongue of only an insignificant part of Armenia’s population, less than 1%.

The pro-Russian sentiments are to the government’s benefit who thus hold its power and not many can dare to argue against the Russian army. Together they defend the Russian forces and cooperate in covering up their crimes, establishing a feeling of impunity deepened by “the Russian Man’s burden”. Today too, it is the heavily armed Russian soldiers that “are looking for” the murderer in Gyumri’s streets, who are normally not allowed to leave the premises of the military base armed with the exception of cases involving protection of the premises and their families. The local residents write that they are scared to be on the streets, and one of the local activists – a traditional organizer of demonstrations – received a phone call with a “persistent recommendation” not to hold any demonstrations. The police of Armenia declared that all its possible units have embarked upon the search for the suspect and they are inspecting roads, checking up vehicles. It is possible, however, to assume that he will be first found or is already found by the Russian military, which, as usual, will not conduct a transparent investigation and will find a way to soak the case into murky waters.

These concerns are also fed by the fact that the Russian television has so far kept silent on the matter, at least as of the moment of writing this note (evening of January 12). The official representatives of Russian Federation in Armenia have made several brief and bleak announcements of condolences. The Russian media covering this issue is limited to electronic media, which have so far made only a few skimpy pieces in between their newsfeed about news on Navalny and the death of singer Obraztsova. Tabloids such as the Moskovskiy Komsomolets have already started disseminating news that private Permyakov is an insane maniac, whose brother is a murderer, is suicidal etc. All these arguments have already been disapproved one way or another, however the intention of “cleaning up the uniform of the Russian soldier” is clear, since incidents with such kurtosis should not shade and obstruct the expansion of the Russian world.

It is needless to state that believing in the courts of any country is a vast naivety, however the issue of a transparent investigation of the slaughter that took place in Gyumri is the daily security issue of not only the residents of Gyumri, but also all those who live in the proximity of such polite people who can visit you as a guest with a gun under their arm, for example.

Despite the overt colonial character of Russia’s presence in Armenia, none of the significant political forces of Armenia raise the issue of the exit of the Russian forces from Armenia. Nonetheless, it may be expected that the question of overseeing the behavior of the Russian military and transparency of their activities may be raised.

Even for this to happen it is important to not let this incident sink in silence and to achieve transparency and openness in investigation with the help of public actions of solidarity. In this case they will have an impact, especially if they will be held closer to the metropole.

UPD:

According to the military of the Russian Federation, the private was caught last night by the Russian border guards on the borderline with Turkey. They returned him to the military base N 102. An announcement is disseminated that the soldier explained his deed by the fact that “he dropped by to ask for water to drink” and he was denied after which he shot them all dead. The officials of Armenia have expressed that the most important in this situation is not to ruin relations with Russia. Media are receiving commentaries on the process and organization of investigation with great difficulties or are not receiving at all. The Russian side seems to be intending to reject handing the soldier over that they have to do following the agreement on the military base’s dislocation in Armenia, while the local bureaucrats are not burning with the desire to investigate anything. Up until now, mourning is not declared in the country. It looks like this case is also doomed to be covered up and sent into oblivion.

Representatives of the activist community of Armenia have not yet held any remarkable actions. According to unconfirmed sources, a few people took the streets in Yerevan near the Russian Federation’s embassy. Social activeness is harnessed through the traditional online petitions, which officials normally do not pay attention to. A mourning demonstration will be held in Gyumri today, the more and more calls are disseminated in the social media in favor of lighting candles by windows and praying for justice.

UPD 2:

In response to justified criticism of this text we would like to note that this story was written to catch up the urgency of the matter and with no ambition for deep analysis. All the mentioned data were double-checked with local activists in Gyumri. The text is partially modified. We will be thankful to you if you leave in your feedback links to deeper analyses.

UPD 3:
Today  some thousands of protesters break through the police barriers to the location of the 102 military base of Russian army in Guymri. This is one of the biggest protest action in the town over the years. You can follow the events via web-streams:
Journalist club in Guymri Asparez
Civilnet.am
Azatutyun.am

UPD 4:
Today on 14. January some thousands of protesters break through the police barriers to the location of the 102 military base of Russian army in Guymri. They demand that soldier Permyakov have to be handed over to Armenia and investigations of the murder have to be done by the Armenian side. The people chanted “now!” and “let them even apologize in their language”. The police enforcement and more protesters came from Yerevan. No Russian officials came out to the protesters. Instead of it Armenian police was enforced by Russian soldiers armed with rubber sticks, shields and protective gear, as it is usual used by the cpecial police OMON in Russia to shut down protests. The prosecutor of the region Shirak, which center is Guymri, arrived. He tried to calm down the people and told, that the can protest in any place, but not in the front of Russian military base. In the end the people decided to go away and promised to come back on the next day at 17.00. So they meant to give the authorities time to solve the problem and answer their demands. There are two protest rallies planned in Yerevan for tomorrow.

 UPD 5:
Two meetings was held today in Yerevan. One in front of the president palace and one in front of Russian embassy. Both wasn’t huge with some hundreds people. In front of the Russian embassy protesters was blocked by the police chains, who didn’t let them come closer to the embassy’s fence. Some of the posters was: “We don’t need such a braces*. Your “spirituality” is killing our children”,”But the Crimea is yours? Armenian Nyash-Myash isn’t that strong anymore**”, “The law is above the imperial ambitions”. Today many people went to Guymri from Yerewan to support the protests.
*[“spiritual braces” is a popular quotation of Putin’s speech, where he blamed not enough spirituality and lack of “spiritual braces” in Russian society. Became a meme to describe new ideology of Putin’s Russia]
**[Крымнаш-CrimeaIsOurs is popular meme used by putin-loyalists and people, who like the politics of imperial expansion of Russia after the annexation of Crimea 2014. Nyash-Myash is a meme to describe the female Russian prosecutor of Crimea after annexation]

The funeral of Avetisyan family take place today in Guymri. From the afternood tousands of people protesting on the streets in town. The main events take place in front of prosecutor’s office and Russian embassy. The state prosecutor of Armenia came out of the building several times and have spoken to the people. However, he doesn’t made any solid statements about the investigation process or about possibility to hand soldier Permyakov off to Armenian side. The people demand his dismissial, as far he can not ensure the compliance of Armenian constitution.

In the day-time the deputy commanding officer of the 102 Russian military base, who is responsible for personnel (not so important in their hyerarchy) made an official statement. He appel to “historical friendship between Russian and Armenian nations”, remember “wars with Turkey”, offers condolences and underlined, that “we[Russian troops?] hope you understand and support us”. No statements about the topic of the murder wasn’t made public.

Now the police fight the people out of the streets and make arrests using tear-gas, flash bang grenades and other special equipement. The stones flying, sounds of explosions in the air, people turn over police cars. The police act brutally. Some commentators says, they haven’t seen such a huge brutal police operations since 2008, as police shot people in Yerevan on the streets dead. Only according to official data 10 people was dead that time. Today there are some injured already.

U can follow the events using sam web streams as in UPD 3 and:
ARAJIN LIVE

Just to repeat: Solidarity actions are more that welcome.

UPD 6
We recognized a serious mistake in our text. It was written: “These murderers were subject up to a life imprisonment according to Armenian law, however the Russian military never handed them over and sent them to Russia where they allegedly stood before a marshal court trial. Little, however is known about this court’s investigation and punishment.” According to the new information appeared, both soldiers was tried in Guymri in Armenian court and was sentenced to 14 and 15 years prison. However, after few years they was transferred to Russia. Here u can read more.

“Polite People” is a kind of a new branding for the Russian soldiers, which was spread by officials same as by army-supporters in Russia after the annexation of Crimea 2014. Comes from media reports, where the heavy armed uniformed men in green was described with a sentences like “they don’t talk with journalists and are very polite”. The meme became so popular, that you can see people on the streets in Russia with a t-shirts with soldiers and “Polite people” text or even Putin’s face and “the politest within the humanity”. back to top

2 He is a head of Russia Today and one of the most influent officials in state media in Russia well known for his right wing and pro-putin-loyalist positions

3 The statement was made in summer 2014 in very specific context, as far Russia started a war in Ukraine, using also a rhetoric of “protection of Russian speaking population” and made an annexation of Crimea with “reestablishing the borders of Russian word” argument.

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