Former Armenian Security Service head found dead in apparent suicide

20 January 2020
Georgi Kutoyan. Official picture.

The former head of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS), Georgi Kutoyan, 38, has been found dead in his flat in Yerevan in an apparent suicide.

Naira Harutyunyan, spokesperson for the Investigative Committee of Armenia, announced the news on Friday in a post on Facebook. 

Later that evening, Artur Melikyan, the head of the Committee’s Department of Particularly Important Cases, told reporters near Kutoyan’s flat that a criminal investigation had been launched into the possibility that he was induced to commit suicide.

He said that although the case had been ruled a suicide, other theories were being considered. ‘It’s possible this was a murder being covered as a suicide’, he said adding that neighbours had not heard any gunshots.

According to Melikyan, Kutoyan’s body was found by his wife. 

‘Thirty to forty bullets and empty cartridges were found near Kutoyan’s body, the walls were covered with bullet holes’, he said.

On Saturday, Harutyunyan posted a more detailed account of the investigation on Facebook. According to her, bullets and empty cartridges were found on a coffee table near the sofa where Kutoyan’s body was found, on the living room floor, and on the kitchen floor. She said that a wall dividing the living room and kitchen had 40 bullet holes in it. 

A Glock 34 pistol was found at the scene, she wrote, which was a gift to Kutoyan from the head of the State Security Service of  Georgia. 

According to her, Kutoyan, who was not residing in Armenia at the time, returned to the country on 9 December. She said that some time at the end of December, after consuming alcohol, Kutoyan shot 35 rounds from his pistol at the wall of his flat. 

‘Later, Kutoyan had asked his wife to pick up the bullets and empty cartridges and place them on the coffee table.’

According to Harutyunyan, on 16 January, Kutoyan, who was staying at his parents’ home at the time, told his family that he was going to spend three days in his apartment to get some rest. After failing to reach him a day later, his wife reportedly went to their apartment where she found his body with a gunshot wound to his temple and no other injuries.

‘Forensic, genetic, trace, ballistic and biological examinations have been launched’, Harutyunyan reported. 

After the news was announced on Friday evening, Kutoyan’s successor as NSS director, Artur Vanetsyan, and the head of the Constitutional Court, Hrayr Tovmasyan visited the scene.

The two were not permitted to go inside and in a video posted online, Tovmasyan appears visibly distraught. 

‘Sorry for the death of every citizen’

A wake was held for Kutoyan on Sunday and his funeral took place the following day. 

Many prominent current and former politicians and officials took part in the wake. These included former Chair of Parliament, Galust Sahakyan, former Police Head Vladimir Gasparyan, Constitutional Court Chair Hrayr Tovmasyan, head of the opposition Bright Armenia faction Edmond Marukyan, Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan, and many more.

During the wake, Vanetsyan told reporters that Kutoyan was the most honest and humble person he had ever met. ‘It’s hard to believe that he is not with us anymore’, he said.

Condolences came pouring as soon as the news was announced, including from the Prosecutor General Artur Davtyan, temporary NSS Head Eduard Martirosyan, President Armen Sarkisian, and former President Serzh Sargsyan. 

In his statement, Sargsyan expressed shock over Kutoyan’s death. ‘Society has to pay steadfast attention to the investigation into Kutoyan’s death taking into account the positions he held in the country, and the investigation has to be under [society’s] supervision’, said Sargsyan. 

In an interview with reporters, Chair of Parliament Ararat Mirzoyan said that Kutoyan’s death was a great loss. 

Condolences from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan came only a day later, in a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office provided to state-run news agency Armenpress

‘Armenia’s Prime Minister is sorry for the death of every citizen and expresses condolences for every mourning family. Armenia’s PM is sorry for Georgi Kutoyan’s death and sends condolences to the mourning Kutoyan family. The PM also assures that the Government will do everything in its power to completely uncover all the circumstances of Kutoyan’s death’, the statement read.

Kutoyan’s death is not the first of a former high-ranking official to take place in the past year. 

In September 2019, former Police Head Hayk Harutyunyan was found dead in his home. His death was also ruled a suicide. In November, former Head of the Yerevan Police Ashot Karapetyan died in an explosion in a beer factory in Russia. 

The investigation into Kutoyan’s death is ongoing. 

Who was Georgi Kutoyan?

At 38-years-old, Kutoyan had accomplished an impressive career. 

Graduating with a degree in law from Rostov State University in 2002, he later received a PhD from the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia in 2005. He also graduated from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 2007. 

Before his death, he was a student at Cambridge University, studying law at Saint Edmund’s College. 

From 2011-2016, he worked as an assistant to then-President Serzh Sargsyan. In 2011, he was also appointed head of the Anti-Corruption Strategy Monitoring Committee. 

He served as head of the NSS from February 2016 to May 2018 and was replaced by Artur Vanetsyan after the Velvet Revolution.

Kutoyan was head of the NSS when in July 2016, gunmen calling themselves the Sasna Tsrer (the Daredevils of Sasun), stormed a police station in Yerevan. The authorities’ handling of the ensuing hostage crisis,  which left two police officers dead, was deeply controversial.

Another issue connected Kutoyan’s tenure was the alleged disappearance of documents from the NSS in the days preceding the resignation of then-President Serzh Sargsyan during the Velvet Revolution. 

According to Vanetsyan, some of those documents concerned the deadly March 2008 crackdown on protesters. They were later found. 

Kutoyan was never implicated in any corruption or other criminal cases. 

However, the day of his death, Armen Mirzoyan, a former Wikiclubs coordinator at Wikimedia Armenia, posted on Facebook that a user with the username ‘Georgi Kutoyan’ from an unregistered IP address had tried to delete biographical information on Kutoyan’s Wikipedia page twice, once on 3 January and again the day before his death on 16 January. 

According to an article by Hetq, both times the information was recovered by a Wikipedia coordinator.

It is not clear if Georgi Kutoyan himself was the user in question.

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