By Armen Zakarian and Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian indicated on Thursday that General Samvel Babayan, the jailed former commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh army, may eventually be granted a pardon. Kocharian said the hardline general’s fate is a subject of his discussions with the leadership of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Babayan, who led the Karabakh Armenian forces in their successful war against Azerbaijan, is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for allegedly plotting to assassinate the disputed region’s president, Arkady Ghukasian. The once powerful commander has denied any involvement in the March 2000 attempt on Ghukasian’s life, accusing the Stepanakert government of using the assault to persecute its political opponents.
Kocharian who, as the wartime leader of Karabakh, used to be close to Babayan has until now refrained from publicly endorsing growing calls for the general’s release. But meeting with students of the Armenian State Engineering University, Kocharian signalled his support for the idea.
He said: “What happened in Artsakh (Karabakh) was certainly unfortunate. But there was a court verdict. We must respect it and [bear in mind] the Karabakh president’s right to initiate some solutions [to Babayan’s fate] later on.”
“Of course, we are discussing with [Ghukasian] these issues, but right now I can’t say anything more,” he added.
Ghukasian, who was heavily wounded in the assault, has so far dismissed the pleas for clemency issued by Babayan’s supporters in Karabakh and Armenia. Among them are several prominent members of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences. In an interview with RFE/RL last July, Ghukasian argued that the ex-commander does not qualify for amnesty because he has not admitted his guilt. He also claimed that the local population is against Babayan’s pre-term release from jail.
Babayan’s brother Karen, also arrested in the wake of the March 2000 shootings, was last week sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on charges of corruption and abuse of power in his former capacity as mayor of Stepanakert. The ruling came as another sign of the NKR leadership’s continuing tough stance against the once powerful Babayan family.
Meanwhile, Ghukasian signed on Wednesday decrees granting a pardon to six convicts and shortening the jail terms of 16 others, his press service reported the next day. He also turned down amnesty appeals from twelve other prisoners.