By Ruzanna Stepanian
The trial on controversial coup charges of two prominent nationalists opposed to the Armenian government descended into chaos on Tuesday as dozens of their supporters staged an angry protest inside a court in Yerevan.
The presiding judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, stopped the hearing after the two veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and one of their former comrade-in-arms prosecuted on related charges were again warmly greeted by the sympathetic audience. The latter also chanted “Shame! Shame!” and other angry slogans to condemn what they see as a politically motivated case.
Martirosian said the trial will continue only after police officers ensure that everybody except journalists leaves the courtroom packed with supporters of Zhirayr Sefilian, Vartan Malkhasian and Vahan Aroyan. However, the order further infuriated the audience, which defied police orders and held an improvised rally on the spot in support of the three defendants.
Rafael Ghazarian, an ailing academician who had been a member of the country’s first post-Communist leadership, delivered an emotional speech, condemning the “disgraceful trial.” “We all know very well that they are innocent,” he said of the three war veterans. “They said things which have been said by all of us. I have spoken in even stricter terms. Why aren’t they imprisoning me?”
Yervand Manarian, a prominent Armenian actor also present at the trial, likewise accusing the authorities of unjustly imprisoning “national heroes.” “In five years from now … they will be sitting in the same dock,” Manarian said, referring to the country’s current leaders.
Sefilian and Malkhasian were arrested by the National Security Service (NSS) in December just days after presiding over the founding conference of a new organization opposed to the return of any of the occupied Azerbaijani territories surrounding Karabakh. They stand accused of calling for a violent overthrow of the government during the gathering. Both men strongly deny the charges.
Aroyan, was arrested as part of the same criminal case later in December after NSS investigators claimed to have found an arms cache in his village in southern Armenia. He too has protested his innocence.
The trial is scheduled to resume on Wednesday.