Almost 10 years ago, three young men, Artur Kocharyan, Avetik Tumanyan, and Suren (Surik) Zobanyan (then 19 years old), charged with the murder of fellow military conscript Artur Mesropyan, were sentenced to prison, where they have been all this time. To this day, they and their parents insist they are innocent and were framed. The evidence is scant, to say the least. Hetq recently begun investigating the case, speaking to the families and the attorneys involved to uncover the details of this story. This is the fourth in a series of articles on this case; the last article can be read here.
Resident of Berd, Tavush Province, Avetik Tumanyan, like most boys his age, was drafted into the army when he turned 18. He served just one year in the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army before being sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 19 (the Court of Appeals later changed the ruling to 15 years in prison).
Avetik Tumanyan's mother, Anahit, in conversation with Hetq, said she learned of the incident only 20 days later — on October 8, 2004. "I got a call from Karabakh telling me my child is suspected of murder. Then they brought the boys to Armenia. Investigator Serzh Piloyan said, don't worry, Avetik will come out of the courtroom. Only in November in Nubarashen prison did we see our boy behind the glass. Then he already had the status of life imprisonment. We went for a long visit, and that's when he said what violence they were subjected to, for them to bear the responsibility for the soldier's murder. When we would go to the court in Vayk, it seems as if we were at a theater — it was a staged performance. The court session lasted 30 minutes, then there was a break; it seems like it was a song and dance. But they were deciding people's fates. They would bring and quickly take the main person testifying, a soldier with the nickname 'Aghves' ["fox"], to the court sessions, explaining that he's ill. During one such time, the boys got a bit irritated, and Judge Levik Poghosyan [who has since retired] told the children, be good or I'm going to give you life imprisonment. He was absurd, that they had charged my boy also with misuse of official position, but he was a rank-and-file soldier. We've been fighting for 10 years. I'm an optimist; I know that my son is innocent. His hands, also the hands of the other two boys, do not have blood on them; I know that justice, though delayed, will prevail; the truth will be revealed thanks to compassionate people."
Hetq also spoke with Avetik Tumanyan's and Surik Chobanyan's state-appointed attorney Vahe Margaryan, who said he was confident that the three soldiers are innocent. "If I suspect myself in that murder, then I'm going to suspect them too. I made this claim already 10 years ago. Those boys were bright 19-year-old kids — now they're men approaching 30. My conviction hasn't changed, as I'm familiar with the entire criminal case. I insist that 10 years ago, three innocent, bright kids were sentenced. Neither the preliminary investigation nor the court was able to bring any evidence to prove that they committed the murder. The verdict was based only on one person's constantly changing testimonies. The Karapetyan brothers' testimonies and that's all. The entire charge is built on their remarks. The thing is that they found traces of blood on Grigor Karapetyan's clothes, and his brother Andranik, with the nickname 'Aghves', from that moment on changed his testimonies, giving the other boys' names."
Hetq also became acquainted with the case materials. This is one of those rare military criminal cases where all the necessary examinations were appointed. In the 15 volume criminal case there are about 15 examination results, but in none of them is there even a particle belonging to Avetik Tumanyan, Surik Chobanyan, or Artur Kocharyan. Consequently, their participation in the murder of Artur Mesropyan, 18, was denied through these examinations. It's interesting that clearly evident in the fingerprints examination are unidentified fingerprints on the material evidence and the body. But the preliminary investigative body, the CSI investigators of the RA Military Prosecutor's Office, didn't substantiate these circumstances, didn't determine whose fingerprints these are.
Attorney Vahe Margaryan till today is in contact with the defendants' families; he doesn't forget the boys, and now he's searching for avenues to reopen the case. He met with the three defendants' parents and RA General Prosecutor Gevorg Kostanyan. The latter said the case can be reviewed only if there are newly discovered circumstances.
But the grounds for new circumstances in the Republic of Armenia are destroyed by law. Take, for instance, the material evidence. At the end of all verdicts, judges in Armenia read the statement about destroying material evidence. But thanks to the preservation of material evidence, the world has long reopened old cases. Years later, prisoners are recognized as innocent and with an acquittal regain their freedom. States apologies and pay astronomical figures in compensation.
Margaryan says this case won't leave his heart and mind, and he is constantly trying to find avenues to finally reopen the case. With this purpose, he transferred the case to attorney Hayk Alumyan, who will try to help the three young men reopen their case. In conversation with Hetq, Alumyan said: "I'm still getting acquainted with the materials of the criminal case. I have to try to search for newly discovered circumstances. I also have to try to find material evidence, perhaps they are still being preserved, though destroying material evidence is written at the basis of the verdict."
In the 21st century, in this digital age, when at every rally a dozen police officers take photo and video footage of citizens, so few photographs are taken during investigations that today it's not possible, even thanks to modern technology, to get a 3D model of how a crime was committed. This also could've become a newly discovered circumstance, but the crime scene, as Margaryan said, two days after the incident, on September 23, 2004, was destroyed with equipment; consequently, all traces of the crime were eliminated. "Instead of photographing every square meter of the scene [there were only a few photographs of the scene in the case materials], the investigators drew schemas by hand," said the attorney.
Member of RA Chamber of Advocates, former investigator with 8 years of experience in investigative work Marat Kostanyan informed Hetq that, certainly, schemas are important, but photographs have their place too. He emphasized the importance of photographing every detail of the crime scene.
P.S. Hetq applied to the Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice for permission to interview Avetik Tumanyan in Sevan Penitentiary. Hetq also contacted Tumanyan to get his permission as well. If consent is obtained, Hetq will publish the interview.