By Karine Kalantarian
Azat Arshakian, a well-known Armenian politician and Soviet-era dissident accused of illegal arms possession, was set free on Wednesday after an unusually brief trial that ended in a two-year suspended sentence on him.
Arshakian was put under arrest two months ago after police discovered a stockpile of weapons and ammunition at the Yerevan headquarters of his Independence Army, a former paramilitary group currently engaged in charitable work. The arms cache included parts of Soviet-made flame-throwers and hundreds of hand grenades.
Arshakian has maintained that he was not aware of its existence. He repeated the claim at the four-hour court hearing. His defense attorney, Robert Grigorian, also insisted on his client’s innocence, saying that the case should not have been brought in the first place.
The presiding judge said he is handing down a relatively soft punishment in view of the defendant’s past pro-independence activities as well a clemency appeal signed by twelve members of the Armenian parliament. Arshakian, who was released in the court house, told reporters that he is satisfied with the verdict despite considering himself innocent.
The Independence Army was formed in the late 1980s by several Soviet-era dissidents, including Arshakian and the current Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, to fight Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The group was disbanded in the early 1990s but continued its existence as a non-governmental organization helping families of the war veterans. Its leaders say it surrendered all of its weapons at the time.