Karine Simonian, Hasmik Smbatian


Armenia -- Soldiers hold exercises, undated.

Six Armenian army servicemen have been reportedly shot dead this week
in two separate non-combat incidents highlighting lingering abuse
and other serious problems within the country's armed forces.

The Armenian Defense Ministry reported on Thursday evening that an
"incident" involving "use of firearms" and resulting in an unspecified
number of casualties took place at one of its military bases on
Wednesday. It gave no details, saying only that military investigators
have received "strictest orders" to clarify all circumstances of
the incident.

A source close to the Armenian government told RFE/RL's Armenian
service that it occurred at an Armenian army unit in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The source said a soldier serving there shot dead four officers before
turning his gun on himself.

Artur Sakunts, an Armenian human rights campaigner, gave similar
information to the Lragir.am news service. But he cautioned that it is
"preliminary and unconfirmed."

Armenia -- A photograph of Artak Nazarian, an army officer found dead
in Tavush region.

The shooting was reported two days after another officer was found
dead in at an army outpost on Armenia's border with Azerbaijan. Citing
"preliminary information," the Defense Ministry said Lieutenant Artak
Nazarian shot himself for unknown reasons.

Nazarian's relatives swiftly rejected the official theory and accused
the military of a cover-up. "He believed in God and knew that suicide
is a great sin," his grief-stricken mother, Hasmik Hovannisian,
told RFE/RL on Thursday. "He could not have committed suicide. They
savagely slaughtered my boy."

"He was safe and sound when I gave him [to the army,]" she cried.

"What are they giving me back?"

Nazarian's elder sister, Sona, was convinced that the 30-year-old was
either forced to commit suicide or killed by fellow servicemen. "If
it was a suicide, just imagine how much suffering and humiliation
he endured before resorting to that," she said. "If it was a murder,
just imagine what predators live among us."

Nazarian's cousin Narek Gharibian was present at a forensic
examination of his body that was conducted at a Yerevan morgue on
Wednesday. Gharibian told RFE/RL that forensic medics found numerous
injuries on the dead officer's face, hands, shoulders and feet and
believe that they were inflicted several hours before his death.

The medics will formally present their finding within a month, added
Gharibian. An official death certificate given to the family on
Thursday contains no definitive cause of the death. Nazarian's face
was heavily made up when his body was brought home and lay in state
later on Thursday.

The relatives also said that Nazarian complained of having difficult
relations with his commanders and other officers shortly after
enrolling in contractual military service and being sent to an army
unit in the northeastern Tavush region last November. They said he was
treated as a "weak" officer who can not impose his will on soldiers.

Armenia -- Hasmik Hovanisian, mother of Artak Nazaian, the officer
found dead in Tavush region.

"The death of our Artak must be a lesson to others," said Sona
Nazarian. "We'll go to the end in order to identify the guilty and
have them punished with all the strictness of the law so that there
is no repeat of such cases."

Sources told RFE/RL that military investigators, who are subordinated
to Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, have questioned several officers
from Nazarian's unit. None of them has been arrested or charged so far.

The Armenian Armed Forces have been plagued with hazing and other
abuses resulting in at least a dozen non-combat deaths each year
ever since their establishment in 1992. Senior and mid-ranking army
officers have rarely been prosecuted in connection with those crimes.

Those who are put on trial usually get off with short prison sentences.

In a June 2008 statement cited by the U.S. State Department earlier
this year, families of soldiers who died during military service
between 2005 and 2008 accused authorities of systematically conducting
false investigations into those deaths and destroying or tampering
with evidence in order to disguise homicides as accidents, suicides,
or the results of sniper attacks.

The Armenian military insists that it is doing its best to address the
problem in earnest. It says the number of such incidents has steadily
and significantly declined since the late 1990s. According to Defense
Ministry data, at least seven Armenian soldiers died due to abuse
and mistreatment and eleven others committed suicide last year.

From: A. Papazian