YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian met on Tuesday with close relatives of two Armenian army servicemen who were recently found dead in disputed circumstances.
A statement by the Defense Ministry in Yerevan said Ohanian assured them that he is personally overseeing the ongoing criminal investigations into the separate incidents. He said “appropriate measures” are being taken to clear up all circumstances of the non-combat deaths and punish those responsible for them “with all the strictness of the law,” according to the statement.
One of the servicemen, Lieutenant Artak Nazarian, died in late July in what military investigators claim was a suicide. They say he shot himself after being systematically mistreated by fellow officers and soldiers. Four of them, including an army captain, are currently under arrest pending trial on corresponding charges.
Nazarian’s relatives believe, however, that the 30-year-old was murdered. They say this theory is supported by the results of a forensic examination of his body.
The other victim, Samvel Khachatrian, was found hanged in the basement of his military unit last month. One officer and six soldiers of his unit were subsequently arrested on charges of systematically beating and humiliating the 18-year-old conscript.
It is not yet clear whether investigators believe Khachatrian too committed suicide. His parents say he is unlikely to have killed himself.
Khachatrian’s death was the latest in a spate of deadly incidents that have highlighted chronic hazing and other abuses within the army ranks. Ohanian has pledged to address the problem in earnest.
The defense minister also met on Tuesday with the parents of Manvel Saribekian, a 20-year-old man who died in Azerbaijani captivity in early October. His press office gave no details of their conversation.
Saribekian was reportedly found hanged in a detention center in Azerbaijan nearly one month after being captured on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The Azerbaijani authorities said he committed suicide and claimed to have found traces of violence on his body.
The Armenian government dismissed this explanation, saying that Saribekian was tortured to death or “driven to suicide” and demanding an international inquiry. Both the government and Saribekian’s family have also strongly denied Baku’s claims that he was a member of an Armenian sabotage unit that allegedly planned to blow up a school in an Azerbaijani border village.