The head of an Armenian law-enforcement agency investigating the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan has declined to clarify whether it could also prosecute or question former President Serzh Sarkisian.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Sunday, Sasun Khachatrian also reiterated that his Special Investigative Service (SIS) had sufficient evidence to bring coup charges against Sarkisian’s predecessor and erstwhile ally, Robert Kocharian.
Kocharian was arrested on July 27 one day after the SIS accused him of “overthrowing the constitutional order” in the aftermath of a February 2008 presidential election controversially won by Sarkisian. The latter was Armenia’s prime minister at the time. He succeeded Kocharian as head of state nearly two months after the election which his main opposition challenger, Levon Ter-Petrosian, denounced as fraudulent.
The SIS also brought the same coup charges against former Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian and former Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Khachaturov. It left observers wondering whether Sarkisian, who governed Armenia from 2008-2018, could also be prosecuted or at least questioned as a witness.
Khachatrian was vague on this score, saying only that the SIS will not hesitate to target any individuals relevant to the ongoing probe. “In the interests of the investigation, I don’t want to give detailed information at this point about who has been summoned or will be summoned and in what status,” he said.
Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which remains the largest parliamentary force, has joined Kocharian in rejecting the accusations as politically motivated. Also, dozens of HHK lawmakers have appealed to law-enforcement and judicial authorities to free the ex-president.
The accusations stem from a secret order which former Defense Minister Harutiunian issued to the Armenian army on February 23, 2008, one week before security forces broke up Ter-Petrosian’s post-election protests in Yerevan. The crackdown left eight protesters and two police servicemen dead.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Khachatrian again insisted that the mostly unpublicized order led to the army’s illegal involvement in political processes in Armenia. In his words, the document accused the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition of destabilizing the situation in the country with “illegal actions.”
Khachatrian also stood by SIS claims that Kocharian declared a three-week state of emergency on March 1, 2008 in breach of the Armenian constitution. The army’s involvement in the enforcement of emergency rule was also unconstitutional, he said.
The SIS chief made similar points in an interview with Armenian state television aired late on Friday. Kocharian’s spokesman, Victor Soghomonian, and three lawyers seized upon his televised remarks at a joint news conference held on Saturday. They again accused the SIS of failing to substantiate the charges and prosecuting the ex-president for political reasons.
One of the lawyers, Hayk Alumian, echoed Kocharian’s claims that army units were simply put on high alert in order to prevent military personnel from heeding Ter-Petrosian’s repeated calls for the military to join his opposition movement. Alumian said that two deputy defense ministers were openly supporting Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement in February 2008.
The lawyer appeared to refer to General Manvel Grigorian and General Gurgen Melkonian. They both were sacked in April 2008.