Tragic Death Fuels Careless Gossip: Rumors over teenager’s hanging spread fear in Yerevan

Parents in a north suburban community of Yerevan are concerned about their children’s safety after a schoolboy’s violent death has given rise to rumors about further killings or kidnappings.

Ashot Makaryan, 14, an eighth-former of school N 197 in Yerevan’s 9th Nork district was found hanged on September 6 under the “Victory” bridge (in the Hrazdan gorge, some 15 kilometers from his home). According to police information, the boy’s hands were tied, though not tightly.

(Though the boy was found two weeks ago, it was only this week that news of his death began to circulate amid gossip throughout the city. Rumors spread that messages had been attached to the body, and that there had been previous but undisclosed similar cases.)

A murder investigation has been launched by the Prosecutor’s Office of Yerevan’s Malatia-Sebastia community (who haven’t ruled out suicide as a cause of death).

Since the beginning of school this academic year Ashot attended school only once – on September 5, the day before he was found dead. Before that, according to Headmistress of School N 197 Varsenik Tadevosyan, from September 1 to September 3, he was at his grandmother’s residence in Echmiadzin.

News of his death was followed by anonymous phone calls and messages to parents of children attending different schools with threats to their children’s security: “Yours will be next to die” and the like.

Rumors and exaggerated accounts of the boy's death have spread across the city causing alarm, with nearly every schoolchild, student or parent becoming security-minded.

Thirty-year-old mom-of-two Gohar Darbinyan’s son went to school this year. She says that different rumors about kidnappings of children had reached her and other parents recently and these alleged kidnappings are linked with different religious sects.

“Those parents who have children of school age know about these rumors. My child’s teacher has specially warned the class today that if somebody’s parent was late to pick him or her from school, they should stay close to her,” says the Nor Nork resident Darbinyan.

On Monday, the press service of Armenia’s Police categorically denied the rumors about other killings or suicides.

“These rumors are absolutely groundless and false and do not correspond to reality,” the press service of the Police said in a statement.

Headmistress Tadevosyan treats these anonymous threats as “evil jokes” and pranks and says they are determined not to let similar speculations affect the schooling process.

“Two parents of our schoolchildren received anonymous threats after the incident. Of course, with the spread of such rumors there is a tension among parents and some of them accompany their children to the school. But in any case the educational process is continuing and there is nothing to worry about,” Tatevosyan told ArmeniaNow.

The situation was enough to warrant a meeting of school headmasters of the Nor Nork community with the local prefect yesterday, during which it was learned that similar signs of panic were registered in several other schools of the community.

The Ministry of Education and Science says it is an individual case and all the rest is only rumors that have nothing to do with reality. Ministry spokesperson Karine Grigoryan says that the Ministry has not undertaken any special measures to tighten school security.

“Providing security in schools has always been in the center of the Ministry’s attention. We don’t think that security in schools needs to be strengthened today, as in our opinion it is organized well,” Grigoryan said.

She advises parents not to take similar rumors seriously and not to keep their children back from school.

Both Tadevosyan and Ashot’s form-mistress Mariam Hovhannisyan describe Ashot as a clever boy, who, however, did not have close friends among his fellow pupils.

“He would run home immediately after school. He didn’t eat at our canteen, did not participate in our events. Twice I managed to talk him into participating in an event together with his fellow students,” says Hovhannisyan, adding that at the same time he had the fewest number of absences, had an average progress as a student and nothing extraordinary was noticed about him.

Meanwhile, Ashot’s mother, 42-year-old housewife Karine Makaryan, describes her son as a lively boy.

“Teachers say that he didn’t mix with other children, but at home he was a very merry boy,” says the mother. “Ashot’s murder – and I have no doubt it was a murder – was a great shock to us all that we haven’t quite overcome yet.”

Makaryan says that she and her husband Khachatur rely on police to find those responsible for the death of their son. “Only in that case will we feel certain satisfaction. I felt shocked during those days and I don’t want any other parent to feel the same.”

She adds that the boy was not connected with any religious organization and they had no one among acquaintances who was connected to one.

Karine’s other son, Arshavir, is a tenth-former in another school in the same area. He started to attend school this week.

“We are determined to struggle to the end until this murder is disclosed to put an end to the circulating rumors and for the parents and children in our community to feel safe again,” says Karine.

Meanwhile, Ashot’s teachers are still coming to terms with his absence when they come to N12 in their register. The boy would have turned 15 on November 8. His mother says he had wanted to pursue a military career.