The United States would like to see a “thorough and fair investigation" into who is responsible for the violence that followed Armenia's March 2008 presidential election, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia has said.
Ambassador Richard Mills, on the sidelines of a business event in Yerevan on September 5, offered encouragement for an investigation launched by Armenian prosecutors this year into deadly postelection violence that took place a decade ago. His backing for the probe comes days after it was criticized by the Kremlin.
In late July, Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharian was charged with breaching the country’s constitutional order by illegally using the armed forces against opposition activists who protested against alleged fraud in the disputed election. Eight protesters and two police officers were killed when security forces broke up those demonstrations.
Kocharian spent more than two weeks in custody before being released by Armenia's Court of Appeals, which cited a constitutional provision giving the ex-president immunity from prosecution.
Several other former senior officials, including Colonel General Yuri Khachaturov, the current head of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, have also been charged in connection with the 2008 events.
These prosecutions apparently irked Russia, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commenting about them twice in the last month.
On July 31, Lavrov denounced the prosecutions and argued that they run counter to the new Armenian leadership’s pledges not to “persecute its predecessors for political motives.”
This week, Lavrov repeated his concerns, saying: “Of course, we are worried by the circumstance that the situation in Armenia remains heated, events that happened 10 years ago are being investigated… No doubt, we consider those to be an internal affair of Armenia and wish that internal affairs remain within the framework of law and on the firm basis of the constitution, and be overcome quickly,” he said.
The U.S. ambassador was asked by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service whether he considered Lavrov's comments to be interference in Armenia’s internal affairs. He said he had seen the remarks but that "it’s for the Armenian government to respond."
"Our view remains that there has been a need for a thorough and fair investigation into the events of March 2008. And it is important that that investigation be carried out in accordance with the rule of law and Armenian due process,” Mills said.
Mills was speaking on the sidelines of a U.S.-Armenian business conference on franchise opportunities sponsored by the U.S. Embassy.
Also on September 5, Aram Orbelian, a lawyer representing Kocharian, claimed that a decision this week by Armenia authorities not to allow his client to leave the country was "illegal."
Kocharian, who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008, is awaiting a decision from Armenia’s highest judicial body – the Court of Cassation -- which is considering an appeal by prosecutors of the lower court ruling that found the ex-president was immune from prosecution.
The order to bar Kocharian from leaving the country comes one day after his lawyer indicated he intended to travel to Germany for an annual medical examination.
Given the immunity the lower court granted to Kocharian, Orbelian said, “We assume that any action aimed at criminal prosecution -- and applying a measure of restraint is also an act of prosecution -- is not legal."
Orbelian said he may also appeal the order not to leave the country after giving it "a more detailed assessment.”
Kocharian claims there are no grounds for his prosecution and says it is politically motivated. The 64-year-old former leader announced his return to active politics on August 16.