Former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan was charged on July 26 in connection with the “Marti mek” (“March 1” in Armenian) events of 2008, when security forces violently dispersed anti-government protesters in Yerevan. Prosecutors are seeking his pre-trial detention.
Ten people lost their lives in the Armenian capital in clashes between protesters gathered in Freedom Square and the police, wielding truncheons and electric shock devices, and the military. The protests, lasting 10 days, were sparked by the election victory of Serzh Sargsyan, Kocharyan’s preferred successor, in the February presidential election. His opponents and supporters of rival candidate Levon Ter-Petrosyan protested that the vote for Sargsyan was rigged.
It was the ousting of Sargsyan and his Republican Party from power in May this year during the ‘people’s velvet revolution’ that appears to have given officials the chance to pursue the 63-year-old Kocharyan. The revolution’s leader who is now Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinian, instructed the Special Investigative Service (SIS) to investigate the use of lethal force during the events of spring 10 years ago. His government has also made many arrests in a crusade against the decades of cronyism and corruption that it says led to the people pouring on to the streets three months’ ago.
Pashinian, an ex-newspaper editor and anti-corruption campaigner, was in 2010 tried and convicted as one of the Marti mek protest organisers. He is on record as stating while still an opposition MP that Kocharyan should explain where he got his information from about gunshots allegedly fired at security forces by the Marti mek demonstrators. The claimed gunfire was a key reason cited by authorities before they violently put down the protests. Kocharyan declared a 20-day state of emergency, banning further demonstrations.
"On July 26, 2018, [Republic of Armenia former] president Robert Kocharyan was charged with a criminal offence on the basis of sufficient evidence obtained during the preliminary investigation in the criminal case in the RA Special Investigative Service on the events that took place in Yerevan from 1 March 2008 to 2 March 2008," the SIS said in a statement.
The former president was charged with “overthrowing the constitutional order” in Armenia with the prior agreement of other persons. "On the same day, a motion was filed with the Yerevan City Court of First Instance for choosing a detention of Robert Kocharyan as a precautionary measure," the statement added.
Kocharyan was summoned to the SIS headquarters on the same day he was later charged. RFE/RL reported that he believed he had been called to come forward as a witness, and refused to answer questions after being informed he was a suspect. Kocharyan reportedly insisted on his interrogation, which lasted two to three hours, being video-taped.
"These charges are fiction, fabricated, unjustified and have a political implication," he told Armenia’s Yerkir Media TV after the questioning, describing the case being made against him as a "vendetta".
"I can't believe accusations of this type can be fabricated in such a manner in modern times," RFE/RL added in its report of his appearance on the channel. It futher quoted Kocharyan as saying: "Some have linked me with Serzh Sargsyan and continue to do so. We had travelled quite a difficult path together, but that link was nearly completely severed over years. During the past five years I met with Serzh Sargsyan 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 [Sargsyan’s] track record in [the conflict in the breakaway Nagorno-] Karabakh [region] and here in Armenia."
Yury Khachaturov, a former chief of the general staff of the armed forces of Armenia, and secretary general of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), an intergovernmental military alliance of post-Soviet states, also attended the SIS in Armenia for questioning over the events, Arka reported.