Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharian was arrested late on Friday after being charged in connection with the deadly breakup of opposition protests staged following a disputed presidential election in 2008.
A district court in Yerevan allowed the Special Investigative Service (SIS) to keep Kocharian under arrest pending investigation into the crackdown which left ten people dead.
The court’s decision was communicated to the press by his lawyers shortly after midnight. One of them, Ruben Sahakian, said they will appeal against it. He and the other attorney, Aram Orbelian, declined to comment further, saying that they will hold a news conference on Saturday.
Kocharian was remanded in pre-trial custody after a lengthy court hearing attended by him. According to Sahakian, the ex-president made no statements in the courtroom and reacted to the court ruling “very calmly.”
The SIS on Thursday charged Kocharian with “overthrowing constitutional order” in the wake of the February 2008 election official results of which gave victory to his preferred successor, Serzh Sarkisian. The main opposition presidential candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosian, rejected those results as fraudulent and held nonstop demonstrations in the Armenian capital, demanding a rerun of the ballot.
Security forces broke up those protests on March 1-2, 2008. Eight protesters and two police servicemen died as a result.
Kocharian angrily rejected the accusations as politically motivated and “fabricated” in televised remarks aired later on Thursday.He defended the legality of his decision to declare a state of emergency and order Armenian army units into central Yerevan late on March 1, 2008. He also said that the coup charges ran counter to the decisions of Armenia’s Central Election Commission and the Constitutional Court that validated the official election outcome.
The SIS’s decision to prosecute Kocharian was condemned by Sarkisian’s Republican Party but welcomed by Ter-Petrosian’s associates. Relatives of some of the protesters killed in the unrest also welcomed it.
The SIS levelled the same accusations against Yuri Khachaturov, a retired army general who was Armenia’s deputy defense minister during the dramatic post-election developments. But unlike Kocharian, Khachaturov was granted bail by the district court. His lawyer told reporters after midnight that the ex-general, who serves as secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), will pay 5 million drams ($10,400) to avoid arrest for now.
Shortly after he swept to power in May, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian named a new head of the SIS and told the law-enforcement agency to finally complete its protracted investigation into what was the worst street violence in Armenia’s history.
Pashinian played a key role in Ter-Petrosian’s 2007-2008 opposition movement. In particular, he was the main speaker at a rally held in downtown Yerevan late on March 1, 2008 as security forces clashed with some protesters several hundred meters away. He subsequently spent about two years in prison for organizing “mass disturbances,” a charge he denied as politically motivated.
Kocharian has repeatedly defended the post-election crackdown, saying that it prevented a violent of seizure of power by the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition. Earlier this year, he blamed Pashinian for the bloodshed.