Khachatur Sukiasian, a wealthy businessman supporting the Armenian opposition, relinquished his seat in the national parliament on Monday three days after being released from prison pending trial for his role in last year’s post-election unrest in Yerevan.
In a short written statement, Sukiasian said he is giving up his mandate in protest against the “unprincipled position” of the parliament majority loyal to President Serzh Sarkisian. He pointed to the National Assembly’s decision to lift his and three other opposition lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution in the wake of the March 1, 2008 deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition protesters.
Sukiasian, who has represented a central Yerevan constituency in the assembly since 1999, said he has “nothing to do in this parliament anymore.” “I am confident that my voters will welcome this step,” he added.
The parliament decision cited by the statement allowed the Armenian authorities to arrest opposition deputies Hakob Hakobian, Miasnik Malkhasian and Sasun Mikaelian and give them prison sentences on controversial charges of organizing the “mass riots” in the capital. Sukiasian was charged with the same crime but went into hiding and avoided arrest at the time. Malkhasian and Hakobian were released from prison following a general amnesty initiated by Sarkisian and endorsed by the parliament on June 19.
Sukiasian surrendered to law-enforcement authorities and was immediately taken into custody on September 1. Despite being set free three days later, he is still likely to stand trial on what he considers trumped-up and politically motivated charges.
The tycoon’s surrender took many Armenians by surprise as it came one month after a legal deadline for fugitive oppositionists willing to qualify for the amnesty. Those of them who turned themselves in by July 31 will walk free if found guilty and sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment.
Sukiasian, who strongly supported former President Levon Ter-Petrosian the February 2008 presidential election, refused to be interviewed by journalists after leaving a maximum-security prison in downtown Yerevan late on Friday. He was visited by Ter-Petrosian and other opposition leaders the same evening.