By Suren Deheryan
Suicide attempt left Garik without hands.
Garik’s parents are trying to be optimistic.
Garik Mikayelyan, 21, has no hands. Five months ago he tried to kill himself because he was being tortured by his commander in the Republic of Armenia Army and could no longer endure the beatings and intimidation. The suicide failed and the young adult became a cripple, rather than another casualty of widespread abuse soldiers routinely suffer – and occasionally die from – at the hands of superiors.
On July 7, hours before reveille at his post in Kelbajar, Garik decided to take his life. Garik’s family says that under the influence of threats from the officer the previous day, not only against him personally but also against his family, at about five o’clock in the morning Garik woke up and went to the electricity substation of the military unit, and electrocuted himself.
The young man was in a coma for five days before awaking in Central Military Hospital in Yerevan.
He says that in the weeks leading up to his suicide attempt he had endured beatings and had been mentally abused by officers. (Family members are not willing to share more details about the incident because the Office of Military Prosecutor has instigated an investigation into the case, now in preliminary stage). According to OMP, the officer is now in custody.
Garik was a senior brigade communications platoon commander with the rank of master sergeant. He earned the rank serving for six months at the Artashat Communications Military Unit, where he was taken after graduating from the Physics Department of Yerevan State University with the qualification of a physicist and programmer.
(Former conscripts say in some military units the rank of master sergeant is esteemed neither by soldiers nor by officers. Master sergeants have responsibilities of officers, but according to the inner order the officers, ranking higher, in some units do not allow them to take advantage of their rank.)
Garik had been in the army one year of his two-year conscript. Letters written to his family gave no hint of his troubled existence. In careful handwriting he wrote letters filled with patriotic references of a proud youth serving his country.
He sent the last letter in May and, like in the rest of them, he wrote: “Don’t’ worry about me, everything will be OK. I will get demobilized and will come back to help you.”
Now, the letters are a treasure and a horror.
“They are sacred for me,” says his mother, Gohar showing the letters sent from the army and explains: “No matter what prosthetic appliances he may get, I will still know these lines can’t be repeated; they are written by his own hands.”
The Mikayelyan family is known in Ashtarak for gathering its relatives and Yerevan friends for celebrations. They are known too, for charity. In the early 1990s, the All Armenian Fund organized a fund raising event in Ashtarak to help needy family. Mikayelyans donated a gold ring to be sold to raise money.
Gohar Mikayelyan has seen plenty boys off to the army, many of them former students of the mathematics teacher. Each February 23 on Soviet Army Day (an old tradition that transitioned into independence) Gohar makes sweets to send to the army boys who have been students. “I love them all like my son. Garik used to hew wood and we took it together to the school to heat the classroom.”
Garik’s father, Gurgen, is a mechanic but quit his job to take care of his son.
The calamity has also affected Garik’s sister, Varya. The 18-year old is a first-year student at Armenian State Pedagogical University. She was supposed to take exams around the time of Garik’s suicide attempt. Varya refused, saying she could not use her hands to paint, knowing that her brother had lost his.
The Mikayelyans today turn the pages of their life as if trying to find something bad they have done for which destiny now punishes them. Meanwhile they are trying to look ahead.
Their hope of some balance of fate will lead to them being able to get multifunctional prosthetics for Garik, who has decided to return to school for graduate studies if he can get new arms. An attending surgeon in his case recently returned from Germany and told the family that artificial arms are available that could be well suited for Garik’s condition. The limbs, though, cost about 67,000 Euros.
“My only consolation is that my son stayed alive,” says Gohar.
“But let’s not look back,” says Garik’s father. “Let’s look ahead. Today the only aim we have is to see Garik the way we used to see him before he went to the army.”
The HyeSanta Foundation feels the sensitive issues surrounding this case, whether concerning alleged crimes committed by officers in the army or whether moral issues relating to an attempted suicide. We are also aware, though, that it is commonly known that service in today’s Armenian army is akin to imprisonment for many young men who are called to service only to be victimized by their very countrymen, with whom they are called to fight side by side. For the sake of a young man who made an awful mistake, but still has life before him, we encourage ArmeniaNow readers to support efforts to help Garik get prosthetics.