By Karine Kalantarian
Armenian prosecutors’ case against a bodyguard of President Robert Kocharian remained short on compelling evidence Monday as more witnesses testifying in the court declined to implicate him in the violent death of a man in a popular Yerevan nightspot.
Five persons that were in or near the Aragast café on the night from September 24 to 25 claimed that they did not see any brawls or scuffles there. The witnesses, among them three café employees, took the stand as the trial of Aghamal Harutiunian, charged with involuntary manslaughter, entered into its second week.
The prosecutors allege that an Armenian activist from Georgia, Poghos Poghosian, died in a fistfight with Harutiunian after making “obscene remarks” about Kocharian who was in the café on the same night. Poghosian was found dead in its toilet shortly after Kocharian’s departure.
None of the 19 persons questioned at the trial so far has testified against Harutiunian. Even the two men that sat at the same table with Poghosian told the district told the district court that they do not remember seeing the bodyguard among several men that they say assaulted their friend. One of them, Stepan Nalbandian, told the presiding judge last week that they kicked and punched Poghosian. But he said he can not recognize any of the attackers.
One of the five persons appearing in the court on Monday made comments that contradicted his pre-trial testimony. Voskan Mamikonian, a veteran journalist currently working for a pro-government TV channel, said he did not witness any violent incidents at Aragast. Mamikonian had told the prosecutors in October that Poghosian and his two friends were attacked by a larger group of men wearing jeans and T-shirts.
A café waitress who waited on Poghosian’s table and a bartender said they were busy taking customers’ orders and do not remember any violent scenes. And a police officer who was on duty in the nearby park said he noticed “some fuss” inside the café but did not intervene because it did not degenerate into a scuffle.
Harutiunian pleaded not guilty to the charges of negligent homicide at the start of the trial but has still to detail his version of the events. The victim’s brother, Andranik Poghosian, told RFE/RL last week that he thinks that Harutiunian is innocent and that the murder was committed by other presidential guards.
The authorities’ handling of the case has come under strong attack from Human Rights Watch, the New York-based human rights group. In a strongly-worded statement issued last month, the group deplored a “conspiracy of silence” surrounding the café murder.
“Despite his public expressions of support for the investigation, the reality is that President Kocharian has failed to make witnesses feel safe in coming forward, and so have the law enforcement agencies,” said Human Rights Watch.