By Karine Kalantarian
A bodyguard of President Robert Kocharian facing tiral on charges of negligent homicide reiterated on Monday that he is not guilty of the violent death of a man in Yerevan’s Aragast café last September.
Aghamal Harutiunian, speaking at his cross-examination in a Yerevan district court, claimed that he “gently pushed away” Poghos Poghosian, an Armenian activist from Georgia, as he tried to ward off the latter’s punches.
Harutiunian said they the scuffle took place inside the café restroom shortly after Poghosian greeted Kocharian in a way he found too familiar.
The picture painted by the defendant is in conflict with some witness accounts. Architect Stepan Naldbandian, who sat at the same café table with Poghosian late on September 24, again told the court on Monday that he saw several men kicking and beating his friend in the toilet. But he said he does not remember seeing Harutiunian among the assailants.
Prosecutors that investigated the politically embarrassing case concluded Poghosian died after hitting the toilet floor with the back side of his head in a fistfight with Harutiunian. The bodyguard, however, denies their claim that he committed involuntary manslaughter, a crime that is punishable by up to three years in prison in Armenia.
None of 19 witnesses questioned by the court has implicated him in the fatal incident, leaving the presiding judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, with little evidence to send the defendant to jail. Most people that were at Aragast on the night of Poghosian’s death, including two waitresses and a bartender, have claimed in their testimony that they did not witness any brawls or scuffles there.
Human Rights Watch has described this fact as “a conspiracy of silence” orchestrated by Kocharian and his law enforcement agencies. The New York-based group said in a recent statement that they “failed to make witnesses feel safe in coming forward.”
The victim’s brother, Andranik Poghosian, has charged a high-level cover-up of the crime, alleging that it was committed by several presidential bodyguards.
Harutiunian said in his testimony that he “reprimanded” Poghosian for shouting “Hello, Rob boy” while Kocharian left the nightspot with Charles Aznavour, the famous French singer of Armenian descent. He said after ushering the president to his armored limousine he noticed the absence of one of the presidential guards, Gurgen Arsenian, and walked back to the café to see his colleague intervening in a brawl between Poghosian and “several young men.”
The 43-year-old resident of Georgia’s Ninotsminda region then suddenly asked to “have a word” with Harutiunian. Once inside the toilet, the bodyguard went on, he was twice hit in the face before using force to contain the attacker. Harutiunian said his “gentle push” sent them both falling to the ground, after which he promply left the place to catch up with the presidential motorcade.
The defendant added that he learned about Poghosian “from the media” only the next day. He also refused to disclose the number of presidential guards that were on duty on September 24.