Armen Sargsian, the former head of the ministry’s construction department, was arrested in late December about two weeks after the pro-opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” published a photocopy of the order signed on February 23, 2008 by then Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian.
The written directive was issued immediately after the outgoing President Robert Kocharian ordered Armenia’s top security and military officials to thwart what he called attempts by his predecessor and oppiosition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian to “seize power by illegal means.” He referred to non-stop demonstrations staged by Ter-Petrosian following the hotly disputed February 19 presidential election.
Armenia’s top army generals, including the current Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, reportedly assured Kocharian that they will do their best to maintain “constitutional order” in the country. The military’s involvement proved decisive in the deadly dispersal of thousands of Ter-Petrosian supporters that barricaded themselves in central Yerevan on March 1-2, 2008.
Harutiunian’s February 23 directive placed Armenia’s armed forces on high alert and ordered the Defense Minister to form special groups of officers and hand them weapons. It also instructed the then commander of the army’s Yerevan garrison, General Yuri Khachaturov, to form an emergency command structure with essentially unlimited control over military units stationed in and around the Armenian capital.
Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) denounced the leaked document as illegal, saying that the so-called “administration of the garrison commander” effectively assumed the powers of the army’s General Staff in gross violation of Armenia’s constitution.
Armenia -- Soldiers patrol streets of Yerevan on March 2, 2008.
HAK leaders also presented it as further proof that Kocharian illegally used the military against the protesting opposition before declaring a state of emergency in Yerevan late on March 1, 2008. They previously pointed to eyewitness accounts of army units massing around Yerevan hours before the outbreak of vicious clashes between opposition protesters and riot police.
Colonel Seyran Shahsuvarian, the Defense Ministry spokesman, told RFE/RL that Armen Sargsian was charged with diclosing “state secrets.” He confirmed that the accusation stems from the revelation of the controversial order.
Shahvuvarian declined to give further details, saying that the investigation is being conducted by the National Security Service (NSS). The latter has so far refused to comment on the case.
Sargsian’s two lawyers, meanwhile, told RFE/RL that their client will plead not guilty to what they described as the “fabricated” charge. “Our client is going to fight till the end so that the truth is discovered,” one of them, Artur Grigorian, said. “He will give detailed testimony as to who was interested in opening this criminal case and taking him into custody.”
“He has authorized us to give concrete names,” added the lawyer. “One of them is Seyran Ohanian and the other, the current chief of the General Staff, Khachaturov.”
According to the other lawyer, Tigran Atanesian, Sargsian has a long history of personal feud with Ohanian and was repeatedly interrogated by the military police and prosecutors after being dimissed as head of the ministry’s construction department in late 2008. Atanesian said his client will make scandalous revelations about Ohanian if he is not set free and cleared of the charge.
Shahsuvarian shrugged off the threat. He also dismissed the allegations of personal revenge as a “stupidity.”
A Yerevan court on Wednesday refused to release Sargsian on bail pending investigation. His lawyers plan to appeal the decision at a higher court.