Luke Harding of San Francisco Sentinel details the rise of Russia's neo-nazi movement, providing (among others) a chilling account of the murder of ethnic Armenian by one of those groups in Moscow.
By LUKE HARDING
San Francisco Sentinel
It was 9.10pm and Karen Abramian was returning home to his flat in southwest Moscow. Abramian had been visiting his parents in a nearby tower block. His journey back took five minutes - past a series of grey high-rise buildings soaring into Moscow’s packed skyline and a children’s playground, and up a modest flight of steps. As he punched in the entrance code, two young men, one wearing a baseball cap and one a bandana, approached him from behind. And then they stabbed him. They stabbed him again - methodically slashing his head, neck, back and stomach. Abramian pleaded with his attackers. “Don’t do this. Please take my money,” he begged them. His assailants - two slight, boyish, almost nerdish figures - ignored him, stabbing him 56 times. At this moment, Abramian’s wife Marta peered out of their ninth-floor apartment window and spotted two boys beating a dark shape lying on the ground. The couple’s 14-year-old son Georgy, who had been playing nearby, found his father in the entrance, bleeding profusely. Georgy took off his T-shirt (it was April, still winter in Russia, and bitterly cold), wrapped it around his father and ran upstairs. Abramian was conscious when Georgy came back with a blanket and pillow. Georgy wrapped his father in it and they waited in the gloom for an ambulance. Abramian told his son simply: “They were skinheads.” Four hours later, in the early hours of 17 April 2007, Abramian was dead. Doctors had been unable to stem the colossal loss of blood.
The names of Abramian’s killers are Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky, both 17. Their motive for murdering Abramian, the 46-year-old boss of a Moscow insurance company, was ideological. As they saw it, Abramian’s violent death was part of a national liberation movement - an ambitious, quasi-mystical struggle to get rid of Russia’s foreigners, in which they played the role of hero-warriors. The boys had picked Abramian because he was an ethnic Armenian. But his murder was an act of random racist violence: Ryno and Skachevsky spotted him on the street and decided impulsively to kill him. They were apprehended by a neighbour who witnessed the attack and ran after them. They insouciantly escaped on the number 26 tram, but the neighbour, a former investigator, flagged down a passing police Lada and gave chase. Police officers halted the tram and arrested both boys. Ryno and Skachevsky had turned their blood-soaked overcoats inside out; their victim, however, had managed to grab one of them by the arm, leaving behind a bloody print. They made no attempt to disguise their crime; on the contrary, they were proud of it. In their rucksack, detectives discovered 10in knives. In custody, investigators asked Ryno and Skachevsky whether they had committed other murders. To their surprise, the teenagers said they had. In a period of nine months, from August 2006 to April 2007, when they stabbed Abramian, they had killed 20 people and attacked at least 12 others, who had survived. Initially, the police were highly sceptical, assuming that the boys were delusional. Gradually, however, investigators began to confirm Ryno and Skachevsky’s fantastic claims. Prosecutors established that the diminutive pair had indeed killed 20 people.
Ryno and Skachevsky are among the worst mass murderers in Russia’s modern history. Three hours before Abramian’s murder the pair stabbed to death Kyril Sadikov, a Tajik. They ate some food, then set off in search of their next victim. The 45-page court indictment against them shows a disturbing pattern, with the skinheads lying in wait next to different suburban metro stations and stabbing their victims 15 to 60 times. The victims had one thing in common: they weren’t Slavs. Most were guest workers toiling in Moscow’s building industry or as cleaners in the capital’s communal courtyards and urban parks. Nobody knows how many low-wage gastarbeiter are currently resident in Moscow, a teeming metropolis of 12 million people - estimates range from 200,000 to 2 million. Typically, Ryno and Skachevsky’s targets had fled poverty and the impoverished former Soviet republics of Central Asia - Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Others were from China. A few were “of Caucasian appearance”, as the charge sheet puts it, from Russia’s troubled southern provinces of Chechnya or Dagestan.
Like all warriors involved in a holy war, as they perceived it, the boys sometimes made mistakes: several of their dark-skinned victims were actually ethnic Russians. […]
I later discover that most Russian skinheads revere the Führer, believing that his only mistake was to attack Russia. The average age here is about 15 or 16; the style is baseball caps, Burberry scarves and Lonsdale - the uniform of the British far-right. One skinhead even has a Union Flag jacket. There are several girls. The skinheads adhere to two ultra-nationalist groups - the Movement Against Illegal Immigration and the Slavic Union. […]
In December 2008, Ryno and Skachevsky were sentenced to 10 years in jail, the maximum sentence for a juvenile. Five other members of their gang were jailed for between six and 20 years. […] Ryno made a final speech to the jury. In a rambling address, he explained that he committed the murders for the “tsar, country, and monarchy”. Later he revealed that after prison he intends to embark on a new career. He wants to be a politician.
Marta Abramian shows off a photo of her husband, taken a month before his murder. As well as their son Georgy, the couple have two strikingly pretty dark-haired daughters, Meline and Karine, now 20 and 21. The photos show Karen dancing with his girls at a party; other snaps show the family relaxing on holiday in Egypt, next to a camel; there are black and white photos of Karen’s happy boyhood in Baku, Azerbaijan. The couple met and courted in Baku, but in the late 80s they moved to Moscow when war erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Karen studied at Moscow University and then joined an insurance firm, rising to become its general director. He wrote poems and composed songs. “He was a wonderful father, a wonderful son and wonderful husband,” Marta says. “I never thought this could happen to my husband. We considered ourselves real citizens of Russia. We work here. We pay taxes. This is our country.”
We meet in the apartment of Karen’s parents, Asya, 75, and Georgy, 76. They sit together on the sofa holding their son’s framed photo; his murder outrages them still. After an hour punctuated by phone calls from the court - the skinheads’ trial is just ending - Marta takes us to the spot where Karen was murdered. Next to the entrance, she has planted a small fir tree; she and the kids still live upstairs on the ninth floor. “It’s so we can remember Daddy,” she says. “It’s very difficult without him. There is just an empty shape. Nothing can fill the emptiness.”
*photo - via San Francisco Sentinel