By Emil Danielyan
An Armenian ultranationalist politician notorious for his anti-Semitic discourse walked free on Friday after receiving a suspended three-year prison sentence for inciting ethnic hatred.
A district court in Yerevan convicted Armen Avetisian, leader of a small party called the Armenian Aryan Union, under a clause in Armenia’s Criminal Code that calls for between 3 and 6 years’ imprisonment for such offenses. The presiding judge, Gayane Karakhanian, said at the end of the two-day trial that Avetisian will not be sent to prison because he has not had a criminal record before, took part in the war with Azerbaijan and has three underage children.
Dozens of Avetisian supporters that again packed the courtroom greeted his release with nationalist songs.
Avetisian was arrested two months ago and kept in custody until the end of the trial following a series of media interviews in which he attacked Jews and called for their expulsion from Armenia. The anti-Semitic remarks have been condemned by the leaders of Armenia’s small Jewish community. The politician also figured in the U.S. State Department’s report on global anti-Semitism that was released earlier in January.
Avetisian caused a greater stir on the Armenian political stage by regularly threatening to publicize what he described as a list of government officials with a non-traditional sexual orientation. Last December he claimed to have sent that list to President Robert Kocharian and Prime Andranik Markarian, demanding the ouster of all allegedly homosexual officials. He never named names, however.
The court ruling means that Avetisian could still be forced to serve his jail term if he is found to again break the law in the next two years.