Dozens fired, warned after spate of army deaths

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Thursday August 05, 2010

Defense Minister Ohanian was visiting the Armenian army unit in Afghanistan in days before the deadly incidents. Photolur

Washington - During August 6 meeting televised by Armenia's Public TV, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian lambasted his subordinates that he said failed to perform their professional responsibilities, resulting in an atmosphere conducive to recent cases of fratricide in the army.  

At least one colonel and two lieutenant colonels were among 13 officers, including unit commanders and their deputies, who faced the axe and 20 other officers received reprimands.

On July 27, Lt. Artak Nazaryan - serving with a border unit in Armenia's Tavush province - was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head and traces of violence on his body.

And on July 28, Sr. Lt. Vardkes Tadevosian, Sgt. Garegin Hovsepian, and Privates Karo Ayvazian, Robert Hovanisian, Artem Manasian and Andranik Sargsian were killed in Nagorno Karabakh's Martuni district in what appears to have been the deadliest case of fratricide in Armenian army's history.

The incidents have caused anger and condemnation in Armenia, including calls for Ohanian himself to resign. Ohanian's spokesperson said he had no intention of resigning and was instead determined to tackle problems inside the military.

Ohanian became defense minister in 2008, after serving as armed forces' chief of staff for a year and as commander of Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army from 2000 to 2007. Ohanian is one of only a dozen men awarded with a title of hero of Artsakh for his role in the war effort. He is widely respected for personal courage and professionalism.

"Responsibility for [these deaths lies] on Armenia's Ministry of Defense for allowing an atmosphere in the army units which has been conducive to these and other suspicious deaths," Washington-based Policy Forum Armenia (PFA) said in August 2 statement arguing that mismanagement and corruption have been widespread in the military.

The group also questioned the Ministry's rush to qualify Nazarian's death as suicide, calling for a credible investigation.

On August 3, Defense Ministry reported that a criminal case was instituted against an army captain and three soldiers on suspicion that they assaulted and "drove" Nazarian to suicide.

In the Martuni case, an Armenian human rights activist Artur Sakunts told Armenia Today that one of the dead - private Ayvazian - initiated the shooting after a conflict with his superior; military officials later confirmed that Ayvazian was the focus of their investigation.

According to a report by Hraparak newspaper, cited by Armenia Today on to July 31, Ayvazian was a troubled youth who spent most of his teenage years in juvenile detention in U.S., where his family lived.

Last year, upon reaching adulthood and as an Armenian citizen, Ayvazian was deported to Armenia and was subsequently drafted into the army, the newspaper reported, suggesting that officials who cleared Ayvazian for the draft shared the blame.

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