The body of Captain Andranik Mkrtchyan (born 1991), serving in the Armenian army, was found yesterday, in his office at an undisclosed military base, with a bullet wound to the chin.
Today, the country’s Investigative Committee labeled the incident as a suicide.
This is the third such suicide reported in the Armenian army in one month. The body of conscript soldier Vardan Melkonyan was discovered on July 23. The body of Abas Sloyan was found on August 14. Both were found in a hanging position.
Yearly, on average, there are ten deaths of military personnel in Armenia and Artsakh that are labelled suicide.
News of the suicides are immediately reported by the defense ministries of the two countries. Soon afterwards, however, these same ministries create illegal obstacles for media outlets wishing to dig a bit deeper into such cases.
Keeping names of soldiers committing suicide a secret is illegal, says attorney
To collect more details about suicides in the army during the past five years, Hetq wrote to various state agencies including the Ministry of Defense, Investigative Committee, Police and Prosecutor’s Office.
Our requests for information were denied on the basis that such data was either a state or personal secret. We were denied any information about the criminal cases launched or the places of residence of soldiers who were said to have committed suicide. We weren’t even provided the names of soldiers said to have committed suicide.
Law enforcement agencies told Hetq that names of soldiers could only be provided with the permission of their parents (next of kin). This is somewhat ironic given that Hetq wanted the names to find the parents of the soldiers in order to write the stories of those soldiers, as well as the findings of the criminal investigations.
The Prosecutor’s Office, which has the names of soldiers committing suicide and information on their criminal cases, thus creates obstacles for reporters by citing the “Secrecy of Personal Information Law”.
That same law, however, says that personal data can be gathered without next of kin permission if such data includes the name, gender, dates of birth and death of the person in question. Thus, the Prosecutor’s Office, by referring to this law, could only have withheld the place of residence and information on the court case, but not the soldiers’ names.
|Ara Ghazaryan (Davit Khachaturyan/Facebook)|
Attorney Ara Ghazaryan argues that the Prosecutor’s Office must also consider the objective of media outlet requesting such information and whether dissemination of such data is in the public interest.
The attorney says that law enforcement mustn’t deny such requests for information outright, without considering why a particular news outlet is requesting it.
Ghazaryan says that the public wants to know why soldiers serving in the army are killing themselves and that information into the causes of the suicides, even if the next of kin are opposed, can be divulged.
State secret – how many army suicides?
Hetq also asked how many suicides had taken place in the last five years in the armies of Armenia and Artsakh.
The Investigative Committee, the agency conducting the preliminary investigation, responded that the data had been transferred to the Police Information Center on April 2016. When Hetq contacted the Police, we were told that such matters were out of their purview. The Police advised us to contact the Investigative Committee. Then, when we mentioned that Committee had originally advised us to contact the Police, they told us to contact the defense ministry.
Armenia’s Ministry of Defense requested that we wait four weeks for an answer. Additional research was needed, they claimed. Ten days later, the ministry wrote back saying our request was being denied. The ministry argued that the number of army suicides was a state secret.
Hetq then forwarded the same request to the Prosecutor General’s Office.
They responded that 53 criminal cases of suicide were launched between 2012 and 2016 involving personnel serving in the Armenia and Artsakh militaries.
19 of the 53 cases were sent to the courts. The others were dropped.
Attorney Ghazaryan argues that once a state agency, in this case the Prosecutor’s Office, releases that data, it can no longer be considered a state secret.
The attorney says that the response of the defense ministry is illegal for two other reasons.
In the first place, the ministry issues a press release whenever a soldier dies, thus declaring that the news isn’t a state secret. Then again, there are certain news outlets where one can find information about such incidents.
“Don’t the papers write that from January to June this many soldiers have died, of which this many were killed in combat? So, it’s not a state secret. Otherwise, they couldn’t write such things. This is why the defense ministry’s response is invalid,” Ghazaryan says.