Armenia’s former top army general currently heading the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has also been charged in a renewed criminal investigation into the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) formally accused Yuri Khachaturov of involvement in an “overthrow of the constitutional order” after interrogating him on Thursday. In a statement released on Friday, the SIS said it has also asked a court in Yerevan to allow Khachaturov’s pre-trial detention.
The SIS also levelled the same accusation against former President Robert Kocharian. The latter ordered the violent dispersal on March 1-2, 2008 of nonstop opposition protests staged in the wake of a disputed presidential election.
The crackdown, which left eight protesters and two police servicemen dead, came just over a month before Kocharian served out his second and final term in office. Kocharian denied the charges as politically motivated later on Thursday.
Early this month, the SIS issued an arrest warrant for retired General Mikael Harutiunian, who was Armenia’s defense minister during the 2008 unrest. It alleged that Harutiunian had illegally used the armed forces against the protesters, saying that amounted to a coup d’etat.
Khachaturov was a deputy defense minister in March 2008. The newly elected President Serzh Sarkisian appointed him as chief of the army’s General Staff in April 2008.
Khachaturov, 65, briefly spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) before being questioned by SIS investigators. He said he does not expect to be prosecuted for the 2008 crackdown.
The retired general served as the Armenian army’s chief of staff from 2008-2016. Russia, Armenia and four other ex-Soviet states making up the CSTO appointed him as secretary general of the Russian-led defense pact in April 2017.
The CSTO and its non-Armenian member states did not immediately react to the criminal proceedings launched against Khachaturov. The TASS news agency quoted a spokesman for the CSTO Secretariat in Moscow as saying that it has not yet received official information about them.
The SIS bases its accusations on a secret order which Defense Minister Harutiunian issued to the Armenian military during the post-election demonstrations organized by Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition candidate in the 2008 ballot. It says that military units began moving into Yerevan before Kocharian declared a state of emergency late on March 1, 2008. According to the law-enforcement agency, that violated constitutional provisions guaranteeing the political neutrality of the Armenian armed forces.
In televised remarks aired late on Thursday, Kocharian insisted that the army was simply put on high alert in order to prevent some of its soldiers and officers from heeding Ter-Petrosian’s repeated calls for the military to join his opposition movement. The ex-president also argued that army units were not involved in vicious clashes between security forces and protesters which were followed by the introduction of emergency rule.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who played a key role in the Ter-Petrosian-led movement, was the main speaker at a March 1, 2008 rally that took place several hundred meters from the scene of the deadly violence. Pashinian subsequently spent nearly two years in prison for organizing “mass disturbances” in the Armenian capital. He denied the accusations as politically motivated.
Pashinian appointed a new head of the SIS shortly he swept to power in May in a wave of mass protests against Serzh Sarkisian’s continued rule. He told the SIS to reinvigorate its long-running criminal investigation into the unrest and punish those responsible for the ten deaths.