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Armenian Authorities Charge Ex-President Kocharian Over 2008 Crackdown


Kocharian Calls Criminal Case Against Him 'Vendetta'
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WATCH: Kocharian Calls Criminal Case Against Him 'Vendetta'

Armenian authorities have charged former President Robert Kocharian with "overthrowing the constitutional order" and are seeking his pretrial detention on charges related to a crackdown on antigovernment protesters in 2008.

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) on July 26 gave no details of a two-to three-hour interrogation of Kocharian at the organization's headquarters in Yerevan. The questioning was video-taped at Kocharian’s request after he arrived for questioning, the authorities said.

Reporters waiting outside the site did not see Kocharian but were told the 63-year-old former president had entered through a different door. They said he was later released pending a decision on pretrial detention.

Kocharian told Yerkir Media TV that the case against him was "a vendetta.”

"I can't believe accusations of this type can be fabricated in such a manner in modern times," he added.

The case against Kocharian dates back to late February and early March 2008 in the wake of a disputed election to determine Kocharian's successor.

Kocharian’s hand-picked ally, Serzh Sarkisian, was declared the winner, angering the opposition and setting off 10 days of nonstop protests that led to a crackdown on March 1 in which 10 people, including two police officers, were killed.

'Difficult Path' With Sarkisian

Speaking about his ties to Sarkisian’s government, Kocharian noted that during the past 10 years that he expressed critical opinions about its policies, including pension reform, Turkish-Armenian relations, etc.

"Some have linked me with Serzh Sarkisian and continue to do so. We had traveled quite a difficult path together, but that link was nearly completely severed over years," Kocharian said. "During the past five years I met with Serzh Sarkisian only two times. I regret it, but this is the reality. We may have spoken on the phone two or three times a year, congratulating each other on our birthdays, etc. However, I cannot but appreciate his [Sarkisian’s] track record in [the conflict in the breakaway Nagorno-] Karabakh [region] and here in Armenia."

Serzh Sarkisian (left) and Robert Kocharian in 2008.
Serzh Sarkisian (left) and Robert Kocharian in 2008.

Kocharian added that he had arrived at the SIS in the belief that he was being considered a witness. After being told he was a suspect, he said he refused to answer questions.

Earlier this year, the Armenian Prosecutor-General’s Office said it had no grounds for instructing an investigation body to interrogate Kocharian in connection with the post-election violence.

That ruling came after Nikol Pashinian, then an opposition figure and leader of the Yelk alliance in parliament, asked prosecutors to subpoena Kocharian for questioning over his order to use lethal force to suppress the protests.

Pashinian, who in 2010 was tried and convicted as one of the protest organizers, argued on March 5 that, in particular, Kocharian should explain where he got information about gunshots allegedly fired at security forces by the demonstrators, which was a key reason cited by authorities in violently putting down the protests.

In a reply to a question from RFE/RL, the Prosecutor-General’s Office in March said Pashinian had no legal standing to demand Kocharian's testimony.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian

That all changed after Pashinian earlier this year led a series of massive, nonviolent street protests in the capital, eventually toppling Sarkisian from power and leading to Pashinian’s own election to the prime minister’s role in what was hailed by many as a "velvet revolution."

After Pashinian, a longtime anticorruption campaigner, took office, he ordered the SIS to investigate the use of lethal force in the 2008 unrest and appointed Sasun Khachatrian to head the organization. Khachatrian stated he had the "political will" to pursue the matters related to the 2008 crackdown.

'Mockery Of The Law'

Kocharian has consistently defended his actions during the crackdown, saying it prevented an illegal seizing of power by the opposition led by another former president, Levon Ter-Petrosian.

Early this month, the SIS issued an arrest warrant for retired General Mikael Harutiunian, who served as defense minister during the 2008 unrest. It charged Harutiunian with "illegally" using the armed forces against the protesters, saying that it amounted to an "overthrow of constitutional order."

On July 9, a spokesman for Kocharian denounced the accusations leveled against the fugitive ex-general as a "mockery of the law."

Pashinian's administration has also brought cases against several close relatives of Sarkisian's family for a variety of alleged financial crimes, although Pashinian insisted that no particular family was being targeted.

Pashinian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on July 6 that the cases against Sarkisan family members were being pursued on their legal merits and were not "political" in nature.