Protesters demand Russian soldier’s trial in Armenia, clash with police

Armenian protesters shout slogans in front of the prosecutor's office in Gyumri as they demand Russian soldier Valery Permyakov accused of murdering a family of six be delivered to Armenian justice authorities for trial.(AFP Photo/Karen Minasyan)
About a dozen people were injured after police dispersed a rally outside the Russian consulate in Gyumri, Armenia. The crowd demanded that a Russian serviceman accused of killing a family of six be transferred under Armenian jurisdiction.

The clashes erupted in Armenia’s second largest city on Thursday after the funeral of the six members of the Avetisyan family, who were killed earlier this week. The protesters – who came “in thousands” according to local media – marched from the Shirak province prosecutor’s office to the Russian consulate service, and then began hurling stones and bottles at police.

Police responded with stun grenades, according to witnesses. Live footage also showed smoke rising from the crowd. Some 14 people – including four officers – were reportedly injured. Police detained the most violent protesters.

Demonstrators demanded that Russian solider Valery Permyakov – the key suspect in the murder – stay in Armenia for trial and not be transferred to Russia. The serviceman is accused of gunning the family down with an AK-74, in what is believed to have been a crime of passion. Permyakov, who has admitted to the murders, shot six people – including a two-year-old girl. A six-month-old boy was also stabbed, but survived.

Russia, Armenia conduct joint investigation

Russia's Defense Ministry acknowledged that Permyakov went AWOL with his weapons from Russia’s 102 Military Base in Gyumri before the murder spree. He was arrested later that day while trying to cross the Turkish border.

READ MORE: Russian soldier in Armenia detained in mass killing of local family

The possibility of transferring Permyakov to Russia is out of the question, said Armenian Prosecutor General Gevorg Kostanian, as the suspect is currently on the territory of Armenia and only technically under the jurisdiction of Russian law enforcement. Kostanian has announced that he will do his best to merge the ongoing Russian and Armenian criminal cases into one and insure that Permyakov is tried by an Armenian court.

Armenian police officers hold up their shields as they stand guard during clashes with protesters at a demonstration near the Russian Consulate General in Gyumri, north-western Armenia, on January 15, 2015.(AFP Photo / Karen Minasyan)

“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 as the protest raged.

Expressing his condolences to the family of the victims, Russian Ambassador to Armenia Ivan Volynkin promised an objective and all-embracing dual nation investigation into the murder of the Avetisyan family.

“There is no justification for this atrocity. All of the embassy staff share the pain of this loss with the brotherly people of Armenia and mourn along with them,”he said in a statement.

A man holds an Armenian flag up as protesters clash with police during a demonstration near the Russian Consulate General in Gyumri, north-western Armenia, on January 15, 2015.(AFP Photo / Karen Minasyan)

With a moratorium on the death penalty in place, the suspect is facing from 20 years to a life sentence in prison, according to Russian law. At the same time, the law bars Russian authorities from handing Russian citizens to foreign governments for prosecution.

“The criminal will be punished to the full extent of the law,” Volynkin added. “Armenian and Russian competent bodies are carrying out a joint investigation. I have no doubt that it will be objective and all-embracing.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has personally expressed his condolences to the Armenian side, calling the horrific killings a “tragedy.” Shoigu dispatched one of his deputies to Gyumri to lead a team of investigators, and has promised severe punishment for whoever is responsible for the crime.