GUMRI, Armenia (RFE/RL) — 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 Gumri, 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 Gumri. 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 Gumri 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 Gumri 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.
Founded in 1941, the facility in Gumri 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 Gumri, 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 Gumri.
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 Gumri note that the 102nd base is an important local employer.