By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Police in Yerevan interrogated on Thursday the editor of a leading opposition newspaper as part of a criminal investigation into its article that accused opposition leader Vazgen Manukian of justifying any method of political struggle against former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The pro-Ter-Petrosian daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” published on December 15 excerpts from what it presented as Manukian’s private notes confiscated by security forces during the 1996 government crackdown on his National Democratic Union (AZhM) and other major opposition groups. The paper said they were written in the months leading up to the disputed September 1996 election official results of which showed the then incumbent Ter-Petrosian narrowly defeating Manukian. The latter challenged the disputed vote results with street protests that turned violent and were quelled by troops and the police.
In particular, Manukian was alleged to have stressed the need to create a inner-government network of spies who would provide him with confidential information which would then be used for spreading discord within the Ter-Petrosian administration and blackmailing its rival factions. He would also cultivate “well-to-do friends” who would finance the AZhM and be rewarded with “plots of land and factories” in the event of regime change, according to the published notes.
Manukian promptly rejected the embarrassing allegations as a fabrication and demanded an official forensic examination which he says would prove that the handwriting of the notes is not his. He asked the Office of the Prosecutor-General to bring a defamation case against “Haykakan Zhamanak” after its editor, Nikol Pashinian, refused to give him a copy of the notes.
The prosecutors granted the request on December 20, instructing the police department of Yerevan’s central administrative district to conduct the criminal inquiry. Investigators are expected to only establish who wrote the notes but also clarify how the paper got hold a document that was supposed kept by law-enforcement authorities.
Speaking to RFE/RL after being questioned by police officers, Pashinian claimed that his paper did not do anything illegal. He said that the notes were already published by other pro-Ter-Petrosian publications in the past and that he simply reprinted them.
Pashinian also refused to specify if the still unknown person who signed the disparaging article, titled “Vazgen Manukian’s ‘Mein Kampf,’” used his real name or a pseudonym. “Under the law on mass media, mass media have the right not to publicize the source of their information,” he said. “In that case, Garegin Asoyan is a source of information, and I wouldn’t like to disclose that source.”
Manukian, meanwhile, refused to further comment on the affair. It is thus not clear if he too has been questioned by the Yerevan police.