Armenia’s Defense Minister talks big while soldiers are slaughtered in the army
The investigation into the soldier’s death – which was quickly ruled a suicide by Armenia’s military authorities – has dragged on for nearly a year.
Epress.am reports that it will be a year in two months since Arsen Mkhitaryan, a 20-year-old conscript of Armenia’s armed forces, was found dead with a single gunshot wound through his chin in a fighting position of a Tavush military unit. The investigation into the soldier’s death – which was quickly ruled a suicide by Armenia’s military authorities – has dragged on for nearly a year, and Mkhitaryan’s parents have become irrevocably convinced that their son was in fact killed and that “high-ranking army officials are trying to hide the traces of the murder.” Their suspicions, according to the Mkhitaryans, are more than justified: the fatal bullet has not been found, there are no fingerprints on the weapon, and there is a rumor circulating that Arsen was being harassed in the military unit; and what’s more, after their last conversation with Epress.am, the Mkhitaryans were “advised” by officials not to talk to the media.
“It’s the cruelest pain imaginable… We pretend to be strong, we fight… What for? I’ve lost a son; I shouldn’t also have to fight for and demand justice. I remember seeing those poor mothers being brutally thrown to the ground and dragged by [police officers] and thinking how one could send a son to the army in this country… But then we told ourselves that we would look after our son, that we would be able to protect him; we couldn’t have imagined that the reality would turn out to be this cruel,” the grieving mother, Lusine Mkhitaryan, says, urging all parents to at all costs avoid sending their sons to the army. “And if they don’t have such an opportunity, then they should demand from the very beginning that [military authorities] assume full responsible for the life of their child.”
According to the Mkhitaryans, the “protracted and deceitful” preliminary investigation into their son’s death has made the speeches of the Armenian Minister of Defense untrustworthy: “Vigen Sargsyan is a great orator; he likes to talk big, while [the soldiers] are being slaughtered in the army.”
The parents have been particularly outraged by unit commander Samvel Minasyan’s claims that Arsen committed suicide because of problems in the family. Meanwhile, the Mkhitaryans have a number of unanswered questions in connection with the suicide version. They have learned that on the day of the incident, July 3 2016, along with Arsen there were other soldiers in the fighting position who now unanimously say that they do not know anything and did not hear any gunshots. After his son’s death, however, Artur Mkhitaryan went to the fighting position where in his presence a test was conducted to find out whether the other soldiers would have been able to hear the gunshot from their positions.
“They shot blanks, and although the sound was quiet, it was still clearly audible. These soldiers, meanwhile, insist that they did not hear anything,” Mkhitaryan tells Epress.am. The man, however, is convinced that his hearing the test gunshots will be given no importance in terms of the investigation: “They will still do whatever they want. No matter what you say you heard – it’s all in their hands.”
Investigators have told the parents that Arsen was shot from his own service weapon, but they have failed to find any fingerprints thereon: “They say there are no fingerprints suitable for comparison. How can there be no prints on [Arsen’s personal rifle]? It can only mean that they have been wiped away.”
According to the mother, the prosecutor has explained the absence of the prints on the weapon in the following way; “He says to me, ‘Let’s take these glasses, for example; they are mine, right? I touch them constantly, I put them on and take them off… But my fingerprints do not remain on them. However, if you were to touch them, yours would definitely be on them.’ What kind of gibberish is this?”
The bullet which killed Arsen has not been found either; “They say the bullet exited his body and disappeared, but the shell was still lying there. What nonsense! You can shoot a shell in Germany, then bring it here and say ‘This is the one!’,” the mother argues.
The Mkhitaryans recall that when their son was only drafted into the army, he “ended up in a bad troop,” and the family tried their best to transfer Arsen to a different unit. “He was doing all the work. He would say to me, ‘Mom, I don’t even know what to call this – army service or an overseas job?’ They take the kids to this horrible place, make them do all the hard work, and the poor kid sees no other way than to beg his parents to get him transferred to a different unit,” Lusine Mkhitaryan says.
In an attempt to somehow better their son’s condition, the Mkhitaryans turned to their acquaintance Vahan Yayloyan, a colonel from the Meghri military unit, who promised to ensure that Arsen was transferred to a better troop. To make this possible, though, Yayloyan told the parents, he had to give some money to Arsen’s commander Georgi.
“Yayloyan came to our house and wrote down his passport details. I personally went to the bank and transferred 700 dollars to him – I have all the receipts. But Yayloyan never gave this money to the commander; turns out they were on such good terms that he agreed to organize the transfer without any money,” the mother says. After Arsen’s death, she continues, the commander tearfully told her husband that he hadn’t even been offered any money by Yayloyan.
The parents are convinced that their son would still be alive had the money envisaged for his transfer been used for its intended purpose.