By Karine Kalantarian
Armenian prosecutors negated the official theory of last year’s deadly post-election unrest in Yerevan by dropping coup charges against seven arrested opposition figures, the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) said on Thursday.
The oppositionists went on a joint trial last December, accused of plotting a “usurpation of state authority by force” and provoking the March 1, 2008 violence in Yerevan for that purpose. The trial prosecutors said on Wednesday that they have decided to drop the coup charges because of the latest amendments to Armenia’s Criminal Code passed under pressure from the Council of Europe.
The move appears to be at odds with government claims that the clashes between security forces and opposition protesters that barricaded themselves in central Yerevan were the result of an opposition plot to seize power following the February 2008 presidential election. The HAK and its top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, strongly deny the claims and blame the authorities for the deaths of eight civilians and two police servicemen in the clashes.
“The official theory of the March 1 events officially died yesterday,” said Levon Zurabian, a senior HAK representative. “Even these criminal and fraudulent authorities and the judicial system finally admitted yesterday that the opposition had not planned a coup d’etat or an overthrow of the constitutional order and did not attempt to usurp power.”
Zurabian said the prosecutors’ decision also dealt a serious blow to the official justification for the use of deadly force against Ter-Petrosian supporters demanding a re-run of the disputed presidential ballot. “It is evident after all this that [the use of force] has no justification and that the authorities simply attacked peaceful demonstrators,” he told RFE/RL.
Nobody has been prosecuted in connection with the ten deaths more than one year after the unrest. The prosecutors indirectly held the seven oppositionists responsible for the loss of life until the significant revision of the controversial criminal case.
The revision led the district court judge in the case, Mnatsakan Martirosian, to rule that the defendants must now face fresh and separate trials on charges of organizing the “mass disturbances.” The decision was condemned as illegal by the defense lawyers.
Meanwhile, representatives of Armenia’s four-party governing coalition declined to comment on the new twist in the so-called “case of the seven.” “I don’t think that a member of a political party should make a political assessment of judicial processes,” said Samvel Nikoyan, a senior member of the ruling Republican Party who heads a separate parliamentary inquiry into the unrest.
(Photolur photo: Levon Zurabian.)