Armenians Inured to Spiralling Crime

Two random killings of innocents fail to attract media or public attention.

Armenians Inured to Spiralling Crime

Two random killings of innocents fail to attract media or public attention.

Sergey Safarian, 46, returned from Soviet military service many years ago an invalid. But his troubles worsened this summer when his wife Gulnara was killed, leaving him unable to look after their two daughters.

“I heard shots, ran out to the road, there were two people lying dead there, one of them my wife, the other - a man. My wife was hit by four bullets - in her hand, shoulder, stomach and forehead,” Safarian recalled in his home in the village of Agarak.

“All the villagers flocked to where the shots came from. I took my daughters and hurried home, so they didn’t see their mother covered in blood.”

The tragic incident occurred on August 8. Businessman Alexander Givoyev, who also headed the public organisation The Protection of Children’s Rights, was the assailants’ other victim.

The tragic death of Gulnara and that of another innocent woman in a similar contract-style shooting has highlighted a disturbing tendency - the media and the public’s seeming avoidance of any real discussion about spiralling violent crime.

Officials say serious crime is lower than in other CIS countries, but recently revealed that figures for the first half of 2006 show a 100 per cent increase over same period last year - and that 60 per cent of cases involved firearms.

According to preliminary findings, Givoev, who was heading with his family for the northern town of Gyumri, had stopped his Grand Cherokee jeep at a roadside fruit stall. A red unmarked vehicle pulled up beside him. Those inside it opened fire, killing him in front of his wife and children - as well as the unfortunate stallholder Gulnara Karapetian.

Now Gulnara’s mother Kalipse Karapetian is worried that there will be no one to support her granddaughters with their mother dead and their father an invalid. “Look, the grapes, pears in the garden are ripe now,” she told IWPR. “Their mother was going to pick them and sell in the roadside stall, in order to buy clothes for her student daughter.”

Gulnara was her family’s only breadwinner. Sergei Safarian’s pension is only 5,000 drams (11 US dollars) a month. His twenty-year-old daughter Narine, a deaf-mute from birth, gets the same allowance from the state. His other daughter Marine is a student at Yerevan’s medical college.

Grigor Zatikian, their neighbour and friend, said he was upset that the fate of the grief-struck family had appeared to move no one but neighbours and a few visiting journalists.

“Relatives and villagers helped organise Gulnara’s funeral and committed her body to the earth with honour,” he told IWPR. “Today two invalids and a student live in this house. It is sure to collapse. Come here next year and you’ll see! Gulnara shouldered all the household chores. She did the work a man is supposed to do - she pruned trees, dug the earth.”

On June 22, in another brazen daylight shooting, the son of a former parliamentary deputy, Vahan Zatikian Sedrak, 26, was shot dead in broad daylight in a crowded street in the Malatia district of Yerevan.

Twenty-four spent cartridges were found at the murder scene. One of the bullets killed passer-by Karine Sargsian, 37, hitting her in the heart.

Karine Sargsian, who had been shopping, had bags of bread and cabbage in her hands, when she was shot. She left behind three young daughters. Several days after the murder, her husband Garush Antonian published an article in the Azg newspaper, in which he said that Armenian society was living by the law of the jungle.

Nikol Pashinian, editor-in-chief of the Yerevan opposition newspaper Haikakan Zhamanak, wrote, “What was Karine Sargsian’s and her family’s fault? Can an average citizen in this country feel he is a person with rights, or is he just waiting to fall victim to criminals score settling?”

Sona Truzian, press secretary at the general prosecutor’s office, said the two murders were being investigated and she could not add any new information, “I cannot say that these were contract killings until the preliminary enquiry is completed.”

Contract killings are common in Armenia, but they get surprisingly little coverage on television and radio, which is mostly government controlled.

Gegham Manukyan, an adviser at the popular Yerkir Media TV Company and a parliamentary deputy, disagrees that serious crime is overlooked but admits that producers face problems airing such stories: getting timely information from the police and the reluctance of victims’ relatives to be interviewed.

Well-known Armenian actor Sos Sarkisian said it was time the public woke up to threat of violent crime. “ The people must stand up to protest. Our people have become inured to such murders,” he said.

Psychologist Karine Nalchajian said the public are concerned about gangsterism, but feel there’s nothing they can do.

“A family, people in a certain circle, may talk among themselves, express their outrage at what is going on, but our society at large is not responsive, it does not believe that it can achieve things by speaking out. The discussion of these matters generally does not go beyond the family circle or a group of friends,” he said.

Tatul Hakobian is a commentator for the Radiolur news programme on Armenia Public Radio.
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