Armenia is considered a traditional geopolitical ally of Russia. The small Christian republic in the Caucasus squeezed between Turkey and Azerbaijan with which the country is still at war on one side and with Georgia that headed towards accession to the NATO on the other, Armenia benefits from Russia’s military protectorate. There is a Russian military base in the second largest Armenian city of Gyumri, and Armenian borders are patrolled by Russian frontier guards. However, it does not prevent Russia from being the largest weapon exporter to Azerbaijan.
Besides, Armenia strongly depends on Russia from the economic point of view. About 2 million Armenians, or nearly half of the population of the country earn their living in Russia. Since January 1, Armenia has become a member of the Eurasian Economic Community, having joined Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Russian Federation. The choice of the integration vector was not quite definite for Armenia. In 2013, Armenia, like Ukraine, was preparing to sign the Agreement on Association with the EU, however, the Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan declared on September 3, 2013 after negotiations with Vladimir Putin that they refused from the European integration. Unlike his Ukrainian counterpart Victor Yanukovych, Sargsyan immediately decided on the alternative – the republic headed towards joining the Customs Union and EurAsEC now.
The Russian military base has been located in Gyumri since the collapse of the USSR and permanently employs many of the locals. The crime rate in the city is small therefore many locals are not even used to closing their doors at night. The cruel murder of a family of six committed by the Russian soldier became a real shock for the whole country.
January 12 – Bodies of six people, including two-year-old Asmik Avetisyan who was stabbed with a knife right in the bed were found in the house of the Avetisyans in Gyumri in the morning. The only survivor was a six-month-old baby who was urgently taken to hospital and operated on.
Family murdered in Gyumri pic.twitter.com/6mjiNXZdVE
— Mikhail Golub (@golub) January 17, 2015
30 cases from the AK-47, the rifle itself, a Russian military uniform, a full belt of cartridges and army boots with the name "Valery Permyakov" were found in the house.
At the same time, the Armenian police received a message from the administration of the Russian military base that the soldier Valery Permyakov who mounted guard during the night of January 12 disappeared from the unit disposition along with the weapon.
The cruel murder caused immediate reaction at the level of the country’s top management. The President of Armenia held a meeting with security officers, and the Minister of Defense Seyran Oganyan discussed the situation with his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu.
January 13 – Valery Permyakov was arrested by the Russian frontier guards in the morning in an attempt to cross the Armenian-Turkish border. He was wearing civilian clothes that he took in the house of the murdered family; he also had three mobile phones, a flashlight and 6000 drams ($13).
Permyakov was transferred to the unit he fled from where he confessed to murder. According to him, he had been planning the flight long before, but he was not going to kill anybody. He broke into the Avetisyans’ house because he was thirsty, but when the owners woke up, he was afraid that they would report on him to the unit and opened fire.
The Armenian police expected Permyakov to be delivered over to them as he committed a crime in the territory of Armenia, but the Russian soldier remained in the territory of the Russian military base.
On the same day, there was the first picket near the Embassy of Russia in Yerevan; the participants demanded that Permyakov should be tried under the Armenian laws.
January 14 – Several thousand people came to a protest to the entrance of the Russian military base in Gyumri with the demand to deliver Permyakov over to the Armenian justice.
On the same day, a protest action took place in front of Serzh Sargsyan's residence. The Prosecutor General of the republic tried to talk to protesters, but he was catcalled and retreated with the shouts "Shame!"
January 15 – The Garrison Court-Martial of the Russian Federation decided to take Permyakov into custody on charges of desertion from the military unit with subsequent murder of six people.
This decision caused a harsh reaction of the Armenians who fairly hoped that the murderer will be tried under the laws of their country. Thousands of protesters came out to the buildings of the Russian diplomatic missions in Gyumri and Yerevan, and the actions resulted in skirmishes with the police with 12 people injured.
Protesters in Yerevan even tried to burn a flag of the Russian Federation which is unprecedented for the pro-Russian Armenia.
The police detained several dozen people during the skirmishes in Gyumri and Yerevan. All detainees were released the next day. However, criminal cases were instituted because of clashes with the police.
What is next?
In spite of the fact that street protests in Armenia have stopped so far, emotions are still running high about Permyakov’s case. The anti-Russian agenda of the Armenian protests gave cause for the Russian political strategists to call the events "the Armenian Maidan". There appeared groups in the social networks aimed to protect Valery Permyakov; he appears to be a prisoner of conscience and an innocent victim of circumstances, and the wave of protests is called a "paid action" organized by "Russia’s enemies".
According to the correspondent of the Armenian service of Radio Svoboda Aza Babayan, unwillingness of the Russian authorities to deliver Permyakov over to the Armenian law enforcement authorities will result in the growth of anti-Russian sentiments in society that had been very low before. Ordinary Armenians were very insulted by the fact that no high-ranking Russian official has made an official statement regarding the tragedy in Gyumri, and Russian central TV channels that are traditionally popular in Armenia avoided this subject at all, Babayan notes.
Perhaps, the pro-European opposition of Armenia which could only oppose Sargsyan's policy by sluggish protest actions will be able to benefit from the situation. Oppositionists have already declared a mass demonstration against the policy of the current government in Yerevan on April 24, on the day commemorating victims of Armenian genocide.