A school teacher in Armenia who confessed to the repeated sexual abuse of mentally challenged students received to a two-year prison term on May 24. Lawyers for the victims complained that the punishment was too lenient, given the magnitude of the crime.
After the sentence was announced, the packed courtroom at the Erebuni and Nubarashen Court resounded with angry cries, with some calling for a life sentence for 59-year-old Levon Avagian, a former teacher of Armenian language and literature at School Number 11 in Nubarashen, a suburb of Yerevan.
The court ruled that Avagian “for many years had regularly committed lecherous acts towards defenseless children in order to satisfy his sexual needs,” as well as “lecherous acts accompanied with violence.” The second charge carried a maximum three-year prison sentence under Armenia’s Criminal Code. Avagian, who taught for 29 years, received a lesser sentence for having pled guilty. The trial’s, which named four students as injured parties, stands in sharp contrast to the situation just a few months ago.
At that time, Mariam Sukhudian -- an environmental activist who had videoed Avagian’s students describing their experiences, and then handed the footage to Armenian Public Television -- faced a potential five-year prison sentence on a charge of alleged “false betrayal.” and $1,400 in fines for alleged slander.
The government’s criminal charges against Sukhudian, who had worked at the school as a volunteer, were dropped in March after she received a Women of Courage award from the US Embassy in Yerevan. [For details, see EurasiaNet’s archive]. Sukhudian attended the May 24 sentencing.
School alumni and lawyers for the four children expressed displeasure with the sentencing. One lawyer for the children, Avag Lalaian, contented that the two-year prison sentence failed to take into account the circumstances surrounding Avagian’s abuse of his students.
“[T]he punishment should have been harsher, since the crime was committed against defenseless children, many of whom have mental development problems, [and] are orphans, meaning that the unprotected status of those children was taken advantage of,” argued Lalaian.
Another of the children’s lawyers, Tigran Hairapetian, qualified the trial as a “formality” and criticized the sentence as “extremely mild, which will encourage more such crimes.”
School alumni who attended the sentencing echoed that sentiment. “It was not a school, it was a concentration camp,” declared 39-year-old Gayane Sahakian, who described physical abuse as “a tradition at that school.”
The school’s principal, Meruzhan Yengibarian, who declined to comment on Avagian’s sentencing, denied abuse allegations. “Nothing of the kind happened,” Yengibarian told EurasiaNet.org. “Children are not abused at our school, nor are they raped. It’s all a brazen lie.”
Gayane Abrahamyan is a reporter for the independent online ArmeniaNow weekly in Yerevan.