The 15 soldiers who died in Gegharkunik (BLOCK PIC)

Questions Unanswered After Armenian Soldiers’ Deaths

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YEREVAN (Azatutyun/news.am) — The Armenian authorities continued to face tough questions from human rights activists and other critics on Friday, January 20, one day after 15 soldiers died at their military barracks destroyed by a major fire.

According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, the fire erupted early on Thursday at the makeshift barracks in a border village in eastern Gegharkunik province that housed 22 soldiers of an engineer-sapper company.

The soldiers who died were: Aram Manukyan, 20, from Lori; Volodya Nersisyan, 19, from Aragatsotn; Gor Martirosyan, 19, from Tavush; Rostom Asryan, 19, from Lori; Mushegh Hambarchyan, 19, from Ararat; Taron Gharibyan, 20, from Ararat; Pavlik Abazyan, 19, from Tavush; David Sargsyan, 19, from Aragatsotn; Hrachya Grigoryan, 19, from Yerevan; Narek Avagyan, 19, from Yerevan; Gagik Barseghyan, 19, from Kotayk; Misha Dumikyan, 19, from Lori; Hayk Kirakosyan, 19, from Armavir; Sergey Gevorkov, 19, from Ararat and Hamlet Davtyan, 19, from Gegharkunik.

The soldiers celebrating New Year’s Eve only a few weeks earlier

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Defense Minister Suren Papikyan said hours later that it was sparked by an officer who poured gasoline into a woodstove in breach of the military’s fire-safety rules.

Armenia’s chief military prosecutor, Grigor Elizbaryan, echoed that theory in an interview with Armenian Public Television aired on Thursday evening. But he said at the same time that forensic tests will determine whether the blaze was caused by gasoline or less flammable diesel.

Another junior military officer serving in the village insisted that no gasoline was stored in or just outside the two-room village house turned into the barracks.

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The official version of events was also questioned by some civil society members, opposition figures and other critics of Pashinian’s government. They said, in particular, Pashinian drew the conclusion before the completion of a criminal investigation launched by law-enforcement authorities.

“First of all, it is suspicious that only one theory, voiced by the prime minister and the defense minister, is being considered,” said Edgar Khachatryan, a human rights activist monitoring the military. ”This leaves me with the impression that the investigation is being directed.”

Elizbaryan said in this regard that the investigators are open to considering other theories if they are backed up by concrete facts.

As of yet, the investigators have not charged or arrested anyone in connection with what was one of the deadliest accidents ever registered in the ranks of the Armenian army. A spokesman for the Investigative Committee said they questioned about a dozen servicemen.

The army captain blamed for the fire was not among them. He is one of the three survivors seriously injured in the blaze and hospitalized as a result. Hospital officials said that he is still unable to give testimony.

A dozen other, more high-ranking officers were sacked on Thursday. They included Vahram Grigoryan, the commander of the army’s Second Corps stationed in Gegharkunik.

The critics also decried the poor conditions of the dead and injured soldiers’ service. They pointed out that the one-story house where they stayed had no emergency exit and that its windows had railings that made it extremely difficult for the soldiers to jump out of them to escape the fire.

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