GYUMRI, Armenia -- An Armenian judge has refused to move the trial of a Russian soldier accused of murdering an Armenian family of seven from a Russian military base to an Armenian court.
Judge Harutyun Movsisian announced his decision as the trial of Valery Permyakov resumed on January 18 in Armenia’s northwestern city of Gyumri, where Russia's 102nd Military Base is located. Permyakov was once stationed at the base and is currently jailed there on desertion charges.
Six members of the Avetisian family, including a 2-year-old girl, were found dead on January 12, 2015, in their home in Gyumri. All the victims were shot dead or stabbed to death, and a 6-month-old boy who was stabbed in the attack died of his injuries a week later.
Permyakov, who was 18 at the time of the killings, was later detained near Armenia's border with Turkey after fleeing the Russian base.
The slayings led to numerous -- and sometimes violent -- rallies in Gyumri and Yerevan in which participants protested Russia's military presence in the country and called for Permyakov to be tried in Armenian courts rather than by Russian military judges.
In August, a Russian military court found Permyakov guilty of desertion and sentenced him to 10 years in jail. The soldier pleaded guilty to charges of desertion with weapons, stealing firearms and ammunition, and illegally carrying weapons.
However, the trial did not address the killings themselves, and Permyakov was handed to Armenian officials to face murder charges.
Lawyers for the victims asked Judge Movsisian on January 18 to allow the location of the civilian trial to be moved to a regular Armenian court, but the judge rejected their request.
Movsisian also rejected the lawyers' call to recuse himself from the case and adjourned the trial until January 22.
The lawyers had accused Movsisian of being under outside influence.
Permyakov, who is being defended by a court-appointed lawyer, was directly asked twice if he would agree to the trial being moved outside the Russian base.
At first, Permyakov said the location of the trial made no difference to him. But when asked a second time, he said he felt safer on the premises of the Russian base.
According to Armenian and Russian reports, Permyakov told military officials that he broke into the Avetisians' home to steal money to return to Russia because he couldn't bear being in the army anymore.
Commemorations were held for the Avetisian family in Gyumri last week, on the anniversary of the slayings. Hundreds of people visited the victims' graves and attended a special liturgy at the city’s central church on January 12.
Russia maintains a garrison of around 3,000 soldiers at the 102nd Military Base, located some 120 kilometers northwest of Yerevan.
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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.
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!"
Just 10 minutes' drive from the main square of Gyumri (pictured) lies the Turkish border. Turkey and Azerbaijan are seen as Armenia's traditional enemies and both countries have large and well-funded armies. In recent years, Azerbaijan has been making increasingly aggressive statements about territory the two countries fought a war over from 1988 to 1994.
Artisan Edvard Jamakochian after grinding one of the traditional Armenian cups he makes for a living.
"After those murders, this whole town was angry. It was the young guys who were out on the street kicking police cars in front of the Russian Consulate, but believe me, every household felt the same anger. I remember the last time the Russians killed here, too," Jamakochian says, referring to a 1999 incident involving two Russian servicemen. "A couple of soldiers came into the town drunk and shot up the center of town. Two of our people died and we never got justice. Now in court this Permyakov keeps asking for breaks and they give them to him! That's why we don't have faith in the trial. I don't like the Russians being here in Gyumri, but, to be frank with you, we are a small country in a dangerous neighborhood and we have no choice."
This windswept hillside, some 8 kilometers from Gyumri, is the final resting place of the Avetisian family.
A statue of Mother Armenia looks out over Gyumri. In June 2015, five months after the killing of the Avetisian family, the body of Russian soldier Ivan Novikov was found near the statue with multiple stab wounds. Another Russian soldier was arrested on suspicion of murder.
Russian soldiers patrol an area where Russian servicemen and their families are housed.
None Arajhanian on one of her daily visits to the Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God. The church, on Gyumri's main square, is one place you're unlikely to find a Russian soldier. Russians and Armenians follow different branches of Christianity and have separate churches in the city.
An Armenian Army officer (right) walks past Russian soldiers in Gyumri's center. The officer made eye contact with the soldiers, but no greetings were exchanged.
A young Russian soldier waits his turn inside a pharmacy in the center of Gyumri.
A Russian soldier selecting mandarins in the central market. As part of the investigation into the Avetisian killings, investigators reportedly uncovered a massive fraud operation in which $7.8 million of food intended for Russian soldiers in Armenia was stolen and resold.
The entrance to the 102nd base in Gyumri, where Permakov is awaiting trial in solitary confinement.
Founded in 1941, the facility in Gyumri survived the Soviet Union's demise before receiving its current name -- the 102nd Military Base -- along with a 25-year lease, in the mid-1990s.
In past years, a number of violent incidents related to the Russian military presence have been recorded.
In 1999, two drunk Russian officers opened fire on shoppers at a local market in Gyumri, killing two people and injuring dozens more. In 2013, unattended explosive devices left on the 102nd's firing range killed two teenagers
In November, a 31-year-old Armenian stationed with Russian border guards was found hanged in the village of Gusanagukh, in the northern Shirak region.
In March, a 26-year-old Armenian national serving with Russian border guards was found hanged in Gyumri.
Despite the incidents, many Armenians consider the Russian presence key to Armenia's security in the face of perceived threats from Turkey and Azerbaijan. Citizens in Gyumri note that the 102nd base is an important local employer.
Written by Eugen Tomiuc based on reporting by RFE/RL's Knar Khudoyan in Prague and RFE/RL Armenian Service correspondents in Gyumri