Armenia: 'Who Is Protecting Them?' 5603-armenia-who-is-protecting-themArmenia: 'Who Is Protecting Them?'15 March 1999 In a 15 January letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch expressed alarm over human rights in Armenia. Among its chief concerns were rampant physical abuse, beatings, and torture of conscripts in the Armenian army, which have led to numerous deaths. Human Rights Watch also criticized the Ministry of Defense's policy of declaring statistics on peacetime deaths a military secret. Armenian presidential advisor Vahe Gabrielian acknowledged problems but said the letter was based on exaggerated figures and, in places, on inaccurate sources. Below are excerpts from another missive, this one an open letter from the family of a dead soldier, published on 30 January in the U.S. newspaper Armenian Reporter.

On 10 December 1998, our son, Ruslan Patvakanian, who was serving in the army detachment in the town of Horadiz, was brutally murdered. ... Immediately arrested in connection with this murder was Armen Shemavonian who, to date, has not been convicted. He had previously held the rank of captain, but his rank was lowered as punishment for the murder of another soldier. This hero has often subjected soldiers to beatings.

During the three days [earlier last year] when we visited our son's detachment, that criminal, having no fear or shame owing to our presence, struck Ruslan on the head, despite his being afflicted with poor vision. On 9 October, he again subjected Ruslan to a savage beating, to which several soldiers of this detachment were eyewitnesses. Afraid of intervening, they merely stood by and observed. Unfortunately, we found out about these incidents very late.

When Armenians were being killed ... in Azerbaijan, we raised our voice in protest, appealing to international public opinion to recognize the genocide and punish the criminals. However, in the past three years, in these peaceful days, hundreds of Armenian soldiers have been killed and/or subjected to beatings and immoral acts by their commanders.

We shout with pride that we emerged victorious, that we have a strong and powerful army, and maybe that's so. However, the consequence of these kinds of unsolved crimes is widespread demoralization.

We have sworn before the grave of our son Ruslan to resort to all means to punish his murderer, and we shall not desist from writing similar letters to all Armenian and foreign newspapers and organizations until we learn of the murderer's conviction.

Through silence, the specter of death will yet visit many an Armenian family. Our children are protecting our fatherland. We wonder, though, who is protecting them?

Arthur Patvakanian,
Watertown, Massachusetts, USA

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