On July 17, 2018, in Shirak region Panik village territory, the march of the Russian military base N. 102 with military equipment was accompanied by submachine gun fireshots, which generated great panic in the village. The residents had not been informed about the military exercises beforehand and did not know that the heavy military equipment of the Russian base was to pass through the territory of the village.
Panik village residents demanded clarifications from the Russian command staff as to why they had not been informed beforehand. The Russian side found it sufficient to just apologize to the residents. Another motive of the villagers’ discontent is that while passing though the village, Russian military base military equipment damages the roads and the Russian side does not even think of compensating for it.
Former spokesperson of the RA Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan touched upon the incident, stating that the circumstances of the case and results of its examination are reported to the Prime Minister, while Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor Chairman Artur Sakunts expressed his opinion in a conversation with mass media, “This fact manifests the real attitude of the Russian authorities towards the new Armenia”.
Tracing the incident, on October 29, 2019, HCA Vanadzor sent an inquiry to the RA Prosecutor General Artur Davtyan to find out what steps had been taken regarding the incident, whether a criminal case had been initiated, and if so, under which Article of the RA Criminal Code it had been initiated and in what phase the investigation of the case was.
In the inquiry, HCA Vanadzor also touched upon the condition that the RF military base N 102 conducted the military exercises in a village located in the RA territory without informing the RA competent bodies about it beforehand. What is even more, the exercises were accompanied by shots, loud explosions and shakes, which not only generated panic among the residents, but also caused cases of adults and children losing consciousness.
Adhering to the timeframe envisaged by law for giving information, Shirak region Prosecutor’s Office replied to HCA Vanadzor that the materials prepared on the fact of Russian military base N 102 servicemen using weapon and explosives were sent to the RF competent bodies in accordance with Article 5 of the Agreement on the issues of jurisdiction and mutual legal assistance in legal matters related to the positioning of the Russian military base in the territory of the Republic of Armenia signed between the Republic of Armenia and the Russian Federation.
Discontent with the vague response, on November 21, 2019, HCA Vanadzor again sent a letter to the RA Prosecutor General to learn whether the Prosecutor’s Office had information on the steps taken in the frame of the case and its results after sending the materials to the RF competent bodies.
The response to the second letter was even more astounding, “Agreement on the issues of jurisdiction and mutual legal assistance in legal matters related to the positioning of the Russian military base in the territory of the Republic of Armenia signed between the Republic of Armenia and the Russian Federation on August 29, 1997, does not define any obligation to inform the other party of the decision taken”.
We find it necessary to remind the RA Prosecutor General’s Office that the incident took place on the RA territory and the criminal case had to be initiated by the RA Prosecutor General’s Office and the investigation of the case should have been conducted by the RA investigative bodies in accordance with Article 4 of the “Agreement on the issues of jurisdiction and mutual legal assistance in legal matters related to the positioning of the Russian military base in the territory of the Republic of Armenia”, which clearly sets that “the RA legislation is applied for any crime and offence by persons from the Russian military base staff and their family members, and the RA competent bodies deal with such cases”.
HCA Vanadzor records that after the change of the Government, the RA Prosecutor General’s Office continues manifesting a passive stance with regard to the criminal actions done by the Russian military base servicemen in the RA territory. Instead of manifesting the initiation to institute a criminal case, examine the incident in detail and conduct the investigation, the RA Prosecutor’s Office manifests apparent indifference and ignores this criminal incident, finding it sufficient to just inform the Russian side about the incident in writing. Moreover, the RA Prosecutor General’s Office does not even find it necessary to find out whether a criminal case has been initiated, investigation is conducted and whether there are persons involved in the criminal case or not.
In “Russian military presence in Armenia and its impact on the human rights situation” report published in 2019, HCA Vanadzor analyzes interstate agreements/treaties on the RF military presence in the RA territory and states the following concerns and conclusions,
Let us remind that on October 31, 2019, i.e. the day of the report’s publication, although the RF Embassy in Armenia had not responded to our invitation and was not present during the discussion, they expressed their “concern” about the publication of the report on their Facebook social network page.
Referring to the report, HCA Vanadzor continues to maintain that many problems encountered by the RA citizens are related to the ineffective control of the RA authorities over the activity of the Russian military base in Armenia. In particular, our citizens still do not know exactly what the RA control mechanisms over the Russian military base in Armenia and the procedures of giving legal assessment in case of such a criminal conduct of the base servicemen are, and this entails continuous manifestations of unpunished actions.
“As a structure operating in the RA, the Russian military base should have both powers and responsibilities. We can see, however, that the powers are in place, but the institute of liability is not established”, says HCA Vanadzor Chairman Artur Sakunts, invoking a number of sensational incidents that occurred with the participation of the Russian military base servicemen, including the deaths of two children caused by an explosive in the territory of Russian military base exercise territory in Shirak region Vahramaberd village in 2013, the brutal murder of Avetisyans’ family in Gyumri in 2015, the attempt of a drunk Russian serviceman to break into an apartment in Gyumri in 2016, the military exercises in Panik in 2017 and the tragic murder of Julieta Ghukasyan in 2018.
This situation of neglect stems from the condition that for years on end, Armenian authorities have not made the Russian military base management respect the rules of the country where the base is located. Ultimately, the Russian military base should respect the RA laws and the interstate agreements signed between the countries considered as allies. Armenian authorities should, in their turn, take measures to generate a respectful attitude towards the Armenian-Russian interstate treaties, otherwise, such undesirable incidents cannot be excluded, just as what was registered on January 22, 2020, in the RA Tavush region. The explosion-like noise was heard even in the neighbor Lori region. The incident went viral in social networks causing panic. A day later, on January 23, Tavush governor Hayk Chobanyan referred to the announcement made by the RF Ministry of Defense, made a post in Facebook social network and informed that nothing exploded, but rather, the young pilots of Ми-8МТВ military helicopters of Erebui military aviation of the Russian aviation base conducted simple and complex tricks in unfavorable weather conditions. According to the message, around 100 servicemen from pilots and flight equipment specialists were involved in practical exercises, around 30 subdivisions of land and aviation military technique were involved. The fact that Tavush governor reposted the RF Ministry of Defense announcement a day later shows that one more time, we deal with irresponsible behavior. Even the region authorities had not been informed about the aviation exercises, let alone the residents. Thus, the RA citizens’ rights were again ignored.
Ignoring both the interstate treaties/agreements and the RA laws, the Russian military base acted in the context of its expediency because never has it faced a tough reaction from the RA authorities in this matter.
Summing up, HCA Vanadzor once again records that the interstate agreements/treaties regulating the RF military precence in the RA are not in line with the RA Constitution and Republic of Armenia standards as a sovereign state governed by the rule of law.
Based on the aforementioned, we exhort the RA authorities to review interstate agreements/treaties and make them in line with the RA Constitution.