Armenians Face Cold Reality After Gyumri Massacre
Published 12 January 2016
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.
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.