Balagyozyan (right) was shot in the chest
six or seven times by another Armenian soldier.
It is a story that has become too familiar in
Soldiers who should be fighting for each other
instead fight against each other.
Over the past year Minister of Defense Serge
Sargsyan has bragged that the number of soldier-on-soldier
crimes has decreased. And in fact statistics support
Still, according to information from the Republic
of Armenia Police and the Chief Prosecutor's office,
there were 69 murders committed among the civilian
population last year. Meanwhile there were 62
deaths in the army. Officials would not tell ArmeniaNow
how many were murders. One attorney, however,
said the vast majority are criminal acts.
This, though, is not a story about trends or
statistics, but about one family for whom one
soldier's death was too many.
Lida and Zhora Balagyozyan's story is a story
At a post in the Hadrut region of Nagorno Karabakh
on February 13 Hovhaness Balagyozyan, 26, was
shot to death by another Armenian soldier Smbat
Poghosyan, 21. It was not a case of "friendly
A sergeant, Balagyozyan was in charge of keeping
order in his unit.
After dinner on February 12, Balagyozyan told
Poghosyan it was his turn to clean the dishes,
a task generally assigned to new recruits. Poghosyan,
who was recruited at the same time as Balagyozyan,
refused and the two argued.
At 5 o'clock the next morning Poghosyan, carrying
a machine gun, entered Balagyozyan's room, where
three others were sleeping. He told two to leave.
Then Poghosyan fired six or seven rounds into
Poghosyan also shot and wounded soldier Armen
Hakobyan. Then Poghosyan fled into the Azerbaijan
village of Alibeyli, into enemy territory, risking
capture by the Azeris rather than face the consequences
of his crime.
He was in fact taken captive and on February
18 was part of a prisoner exchange between the
two sides. The Military Prosecutor's Office of
Hadrut Region has charged Poghosyan with murder.
The investigation is in process, including forensic-psychiatric
In his 20 months in the Army, Poghosyan had gone
absent without leave seven times. The commander
in charge of his unit says the 21-year old was
placed on guard because more reliable soldiers
had been sent to Yerevan to stand against protestors
during the presidential elections.
Hovhaness Balagyozyan was called into the army
in June of 2001, six months after he had become
a post graduate student at the Yerevan State Conservatory.
"You know Hovik was such a good composer,
he had outstanding potential. He was gifted, very
gifted," says composer and professor of the
Conservatory Arik Satyan. "I taught him composition,
and he was outstanding in that too.
"He was my son's classmate in the Conservatory,
everybody liked him. And I want to say this in
particular: he wasn't a confrontational person
The Balagyozyans appealed to the Minister of
Education and Science, asking to have Hovhaness'
conscription delayed until he finished his degree
A recommendation letter from the Conservatory
asked that his army service be postponed taking
into account the "bright individuality of
the young specialist and his music talent".
The letter was signed by noted composers and Conservatory
"My son had a solo concert in Aram Khachaturyan's
concert hall, and the whole teaching staff was
congratulating him," says his 51-year old
mother. "I stood aside. Our family is not
very educated and from a lower class. I don't
feel comfortable (among the professors).
"When my son saw me standing on the side
he left others and quickly came to me and gave
me a hug. 'Mommy, I have to thank you for my success,
all this is only due to you.'
Hakobyan was discharged from the army after
being wounded by Hovhanness Balagyozyan's
"I have lost my darling and my treasure."
While the mother sobs yet the loss of her talented
pianist, his 63-year-old father says his son was
a "real man".
"He wasn't a coward, how else I can describe
him," Zhora Balagyozyan says. "And he
Conservatory rector Sergey Sarajyan recalls a
gifted student but says he was fond of Hovhaness
"as a person first of all and only after
that as of a gifted piano player."
And the professor recalls a day Lida Balagyozyan
came to solicit his help in delaying her son's
"I remember his mother coming and crying
here. I don't forget her asking to help her son
and saying she feels if he went away something
bad would happen to him."
Military Police picked up Hovhaness Balagyozyan
on a Yerevan street and held him in detention
for two days. They charged that he'd entered graduate
studies as a way of avoiding military service.
"They were keeping him until we paid $300,"
Lida says. "My child had studied for five
years and during five years representatives of
the military registration and enlistment office
were knocking at our door. They took him away
but why don't they bring him back?"
Five months after Hovhaness was called to service,
a group of post-graduate students at the Academy
of Agriculture protested their draft, and filed
a lawsuit saying the Armenian Constitution provides
for study deferments of post-graduate students.
"We were watching those demonstrations
on TV," Lida says. "I wrote a letter
encouraging my son and telling him that post graduate
students would probably reach success and that
he would return to continue his study. But is
there a justice in this country?"
While the lawsuit was being heard, the 50 post-graduate
students were taken into the army. Three months
later, in February 2002 the group leader Artyom
Sargsyan was beaten to death by soldiers in his
unit at Vanadzor.
The military personnel who knocked on her door
"for five years" did not knock to tell
Lida Balagyozyan that her boy was dead.
Instead the family received a phone call from
a clerk in the office of the Head of their municipal
"The body of a soldier was brought from
Karabakh," the caller said. "Go to the
morgue for identification."
No army officials attended the funeral.
Battalion commander Karen Navasardyan visited
the Balagyozyans two weeks ago.
"He came to find out from us about the
incident as if he didn't know," Lida says.
" I asked him how someone who had escaped
from the military unit seven times, could have
been entrusted to guard the border and let him
kill my son. He answered that they had to send
Poghosyan to the position as there was nobody
else for sending because the unit went to Armenia
from Karabakh during the elections."
The mother recalls her previous visit with the
commander while he was in Yerevan after her son
had been sent to Karabakh.
"I said, 'Karen-jan (my friend), Hovik is
my only son, take a good care of him. I have nothing
else in this world so do everything so that he
could return home'."
Nothing else in this world.
Hovhaness is the third child Lida and Zhora have
In 1974 their two-year-old son died of leukemia
and in 1986 their 16-year old daughter died after
One daughter, 33-year old Aghstrik remains.
and Lida had four children. Now they have
"Nobody asked us, at least once, if we have
ever lost a child. I lost two children,"
Lida complains. "What kind of a country is
this? Shouldn't they be interested in what conditions
"I lost two children and they do everything
to take a third one to the army. Why don't they
ask themselves a question that the only hope of
these people is their sole son, who must feed,
take care and bury them when they die?
"Nobody is interested. They ruined my life.
They wanted to take Karabakh, but at whose expense?"
The expense of an attorney is more than the Balagyozyans
can afford, as if fighting a court battle would
matter any way.
"There is no law in this country. Law is
money," says the embittered mother.
"If we pay money he wouldn't go to the army
at all. If you don't have money than go and die,
nobody cares for you. People here work for 1000
drams day and night and they say 'give this money
to us and we will not take your son to the army'.
But how can we give that money?"
The parents do not believe there is justice in
Armenia. They don't believe there will be a fair
legal process and the truly guilty punished. They
haven't even followed the investigation.
"Who is going to defend us in court? If
we had someone to defend us, they wouldn't have
killed him," says Astghik. "Time will
come and I will take revenge for my brother with
my own hand," says Astghik.
Soldiers in military trials typically say whatever
they are told to say.
Armen Hakobyan, now discharged and living in
Charentsavan, says little about what happened
in Hadrut. He speaks in scrappy phrases and looks
away fearfully during conversation.
It is easier for him to talk about the common
things known about his dead comrade.
"We have learnt lately that Hovik was a
graduate student and graduated from Conservatory,"
Hakobyan says. "He was telling us books he
had read and was reading the Bible for us."
During his first years as a piano student, Hovhaness
Balagyozyan practiced by candlelight as Yerevan
was darkened by the nationwide energy crisis.
"I've been raising a piano player boy for
15 years, taking care of him not for other people
who took him away and killed him," Lida says.
"Why should he be in the military positions
"When his father used to say let him (help
with housework), I wouldn't let him. I was afraid
he would hurt his fingers. He was learning piano
by the light of a candle. One can go crazy.
"To raise a child by the light of a candle