Racist Murders Deal Further Blow To Russia’s Standing In Armenia

By Emil Danielyan

Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC
May 2 2006

The latest upsurge in murders of dark-skinned immigrants living
in Russia has not only reinforced the country’s image as a hotbed
of xenophobic extremism, it also has negative implications for the
future of its relations with one of its most loyal allies. The April
22 fatal stabbing of an ethnic Armenian youth in Moscow has caused
an uproar in Armenia that is likely to add to the ongoing erosion of
the traditionally strong pro-Russian sentiment in the South Caucasus

The 17-year-old Vigen Abramiants was killed on a Moscow subway platform
in full view of other riders. The next day a well-known Armenian film
director, Mikael Dovlatian, was attacked and seriously injured by a
group of neo-Nazi skinheads as he entered the same underground system
where the police presence is unusually strong.

Similar individuals are believed to have stabbed to death a Tajik
immigrant, also in the Russian capital, on April 24. A 23-year-old
Indian student and a 36-year-old Turkish man living in St. Petersburg
were more fortunate, surviving separate racist attacks reported on
April 22.

The violence followed what has become a familiar pattern in Russia,
where hardly a week goes by without reports of rampaging youths
indiscriminately wounding or killing people from the Caucasus, Central
Asia, Africa, and even Latin America. The Russian anti-racism watchdog
group Sova has registered more than a hundred racist attacks since
January, saying that at least 14 people have already been murdered
in Russia this year because of their non-Slavic looks. Sova puts the
death toll from such incidents reported last year at 28.

The latest spate of killings is widely linked to Adolf Hitler’s
birthday — April 20. The founder of Nazi Germany may be responsible
for the deaths of millions of Russians during World War II, but
he seems exceedingly (and shockingly) popular with scores of young
people in modern-day Russia. According to Russian media estimates,
in St. Petersburg alone (a city that saw at least one million of
its residents starve to death during the infamous German blockade
of 1941-44) there are some 15,000 adherents of Russian neo-Nazi

With neo-Nazi and other extremist literature and propaganda widely
available on the streets and especially on the Internet, Russian
law-enforcement authorities and courts have been remarkably lenient
towards hate groups, routinely portraying racially motivated crimes
as mere acts of “hooliganism.” A case in point is the trial in St.

Petersburg of seven teenagers who were convicted of collectively
stabbing to death a 9-year-old Tajik girl but were sentenced to only
between 18 months and five years in prison last February. A jury
found that they were hooligans, rather than racists.

The Moscow police were likewise quick to suggest that the Abramiants
murder resulted from a dispute over a teenage girl allegedly
offended by the Armenian. This official theory infuriated leaders
and many members of the large Armenian community in Russia. Even
the Kremlin-connected chairman of the Union of Armenians of Russia,
Ara Abramian, accused the authorities of “connivance” in the young
man’s violent death. Speaking in Moscow on April 27, Abramian said
the failure to prosecute the perpetrators of the vast majority of
racist crimes only encourages more such attacks. Abramiants is the
sixth Armenian murdered in Russia this year, he added.

The furor sparked a week-long outburst of anti-Russian rhetoric by
Armenia’s electronic and, especially, print media that regularly carry
reports on the desecration of Armenian churches and cemeteries in
southern Russia. “In no other country of the world except Armenia’s
supposed ally Russia, do Armenians get killed in the street because
of being Armenian,” the Yerevan daily Haykakan Zhamanak observed on
April 29. “It is evident that the Russian authorities are secretly
encouraging activities of those [neo-Nazi] groups,” charged another
newspaper, 168 Zham. “Russia has stepped onto a path leading to its
transformation into a fascist state,” agreed Vartan Harutiunian,
a human-rights campaigner and Soviet-era dissident, in an interview
with the daily Aravot. Many Russians, he claimed, see nothing wrong in
“the murder of a few Armenians, Azerbaijanis, or Tajiks.”

Newspapers also lashed out at Armenia’s government for its continuing
unwillingness to officially protest to Moscow, with Aravot condemning
the stance as “odd and outrageous.” “The Armenian authorities
are subservient [to Russia] to such an extent that they are even
scared of defending the interests and rights of their citizens and
compatriots in the territory of our purported ally,” wrote Chorrord
Ishkhanutiun. “How many more Armenians need to be killed in Russia in
order to prompt a reaction [from official Yerevan?],” asked Taregir,
another paper critical of the government.

Such comments cannot fail to have an impact on public opinion in
Armenia, which has traditionally been sympathetic to Russia and formed
a key building block of the close Russian-Armenian political, military,
and economic relations. But it has clearly undergone important changes
in recent years, with opinion polls suggesting that a rising number
of Armenians see their country’s future in NATO and the European
Union. This trend may only accelerate as a result of a growing
sense that the Russians look down on even the most loyal of their
dark-skinned neighbors.

Golos Armenii, a Russian-language newspaper critical of the West,
summed up the changing public mood in Armenia on April 27 when it
suggested that violent xenophobia is becoming a key feature of Russian
society. “Even those who are very sympathetic to Russia understand
that that country has no future,” it wrote.

(Haykakan Zhamanak, April 29; Aravot, April 28; 168 Zham, April 27-28;
Golos Armenii, Azg, April 27; Novye izvestiya, April 26.)

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