By Ruzanna Stepanian
A state prosecutor demanded on Monday four and a half years’ imprisonment for the arrested editor-in-chief of an independent Armenian newspaper who is standing trial for dodging compulsory military service.
Zhanna Kotikian, the trial prosecutor, stood by the accusations that Arman Babajanian of “Zhamanak Yerevan” stole and forged in 2002 legal documents belonging to the family of a former friend living in the United States to avoid being drafted to the Armenian Armed Forces. She described this as a grave crime, citing Armenia’s unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Our country is in such a state that even having an extra soldier is essential for it,” Kotikian said in her concluding remarks made at a district court in Yerevan.
The speech drew sarcastic applause and jeers from a group of “Zhamanak Yerevan” staff present in the courtroom.
The demanded punishment is quite strict by Armenian standards. Local draft evaders, most of them members of Christian sects opposed to military service, are usually sentenced to between two and three years in prison.
Babajanian’s defense attorney, Robert Grigorian, condemned the prosecutor’s demand as an “outburst of anger that has nothing to do with justice.” Grigorian said his client should only be convicted of draft evasion and handed a suspended jail term.
While admitting that he illegally evaded the two-year service, Babajanian insisted during the two-week trial that he did not steal and forge the marriage certificate of the Los Angeles-based Vahe Abovian and his wife Armine as well as the birth certificates of their two children for that purpose. He said he got hold of the papers through a middleman who was never questioned by law-enforcement authorities.
Under Armenian law, young men who have at least two children do not have to serve in the army. Babajanian, 30, studied at an Armenian religious seminary and had his service deferred until 2001 before moving to California in 1998. He set up and began publishing his paper in the Los Angeles area, home to a sizable Armenian community, in 2003. He launched its publication in Armenia just weeks before being arrested by law-enforcement officers in his office more than two months ago.
In a June statement released from his prison cell, Babajanian claimed that the case against him is aimed at muzzling an “independent and incorruptible media outlet supporting the removal of the illegal regime and the establishment of a legitimate government in Armenia.” The prosecutors, however, have denied any political motives.
The young editor was due to deliver his final speech on Monday but asked the judge for more time to prepare it. The trial will resume and most probably end on Friday.
(Photolur photo: Arman Babajanian.)