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Armenians Face Cold Reality After Gyumri Massacre

  • Amos Chapple

The massacre of the Avetisian family one year ago shocked the Caucasus nation of Armenia. The killings left seven dead, spanning three generations, with the youngest victim just 6 months old. News that the lone suspect was a soldier stationed at Russia's 102nd Military Base, located in the northwestern city of Gyumri, left locals outraged. But despite this being only the latest in a string of violent incidents related to the base, many feel that without the presence of Russian military the very existence of Armenia would be threatened. Photos and text by RFE/RL's Amos Chapple


Locals exchange money as a Russian soldier waits to complete a purchase in Gyumri's central market. Russian servicemen are a common sight, with an estimated 3,000 Russian soldiers stationed in the city of 120,000, and many travel to the city center on breaks and shopping runs.
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Locals exchange money as a Russian soldier waits to complete a purchase in Gyumri's central market. Russian servicemen are a common sight, with an estimated 3,000 Russian soldiers stationed in the city of 120,000, and many travel to the city center on breaks and shopping runs.

The hallway that Private Valery Permyakov allegedly entered on his way to carrying out the killings in the Avetisians' home. Five family members were shot; 6-month-old Seryozha and his mother, Araksia Pogosian (second and third from right), were stabbed with a bayonet.
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The hallway that Private Valery Permyakov allegedly entered on his way to carrying out the killings in the Avetisians' home. Five family members were shot; 6-month-old Seryozha and his mother, Araksia Pogosian (second and third from right), were stabbed with a bayonet.

Permyakov is alleged to have entered an unlocked security gate and then smashed through this door to gain entry to the home. To get there he is believed to have wandered more than 4 kilometers in the early hours of January 12 in freezing temperatures, armed with an AK-74 assault rifle. On capture the 18-year-old reportedly claimed he was looking for "a glass of water" and started shooting inside the house after he was refused.
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Permyakov is alleged to have entered an unlocked security gate and then smashed through this door to gain entry to the home. To get there he is believed to have wandered more than 4 kilometers in the early hours of January 12 in freezing temperatures, armed with an AK-74 assault rifle. On capture the 18-year-old reportedly claimed he was looking for "a glass of water" and started shooting inside the house after he was refused.

Samvel "The Bear" Melkonian, who sells sheep on the road leading to the Russian base. "Those murders hurt all of us, but we can't judge all the Russians by one crazy soldier. I can tell you now if the Russian Army pulled out of here, there'd be a Turkish flag flying over this town within the week," Melkonian says. "Azerbaijan and Turkey would come at us from both sides. We see the Russian soldiers come past here every day; they're OK lads. The only thing I have against them is they hardly ever buy our sheep!"
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Samvel "The Bear" Melkonian, who sells sheep on the road leading to the Russian base. "Those murders hurt all of us, but we can't judge all the Russians by one crazy soldier. I can tell you now if the Russian Army pulled out of here, there'd be a Turkish flag flying over this town within the week," Melkonian says. "Azerbaijan and Turkey would come at us from both sides. We see the Russian soldiers come past here every day; they're OK lads. The only thing I have against them is they hardly ever buy our sheep!"

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