Nagorno-Karabakh’s current and former leaders called on Armenian law-enforcement authorities on Tuesday to release former President Robert Kocharian from custody pending the outcome of his upcoming trial.
In a joint letter to Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian, Karabakh President Bako Sahakian and his predecessor Arkadi Ghukasian said Kocharian should be able to attend Thursday’s official celebrations of Karabakh’s main public holiday. They cited his and other former Karabakh leaders’ “huge contributions” to the Armenian victory in the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan.
Kocharian ran the Armenian-populated territory during and after the war before becoming Armenia’s president in 1998. His successor and another native of Karabakh, Serzh Sarkisian, will also participate in the official ceremonies in Stepanakert and Shushi, as will Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Sahakian and Ghukasian also expressed readiness to offer “any public guarantee” that would enable Kocharian to remain free at least until a court verdict on corruption and coup charges leveled against him. They said his release would send a “signal of solidarity and unity” to Armenians as well as Azerbaijan.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General responded to the letter later in the day. In a statement, it said that it is no longer in a position to free Kocharian because the high-profile investigation has already been completed and its findings sent to a court in Yerevan.
Law-enforcement authorities have until now opposed the ex-president’s release from pre-trial detention, saying that he could obstruct justice if set free. They ignored a similar appeal made by Karabakh’s three main parliamentary parties shortly after Kocharian was again arrested in December.
Kocharian and three retired Armenian army generals will go on trial soon on charges of “overthrowing the constitutional order” in the wake of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008. The Special Investigative Service (SIS) says that they illegally used the armed forces against opposition supporters who demonstrated against alleged electoral fraud.
Eight protesters and two police servicemen were killed in street clashes that broke out late on March 1, 2008. Kocharian declared a state of emergency in the Armenian capital on that night. He completed his second presidential term and handed over power to Sarkisian in April 2008.
All four indicted men deny the charges. Kocharian, who was also charged with bribery in March, has accused Pashinian of waging a political “vendetta” against him.
Pashinian was one of the main opposition speakers during the February-March 2008 protests. He has denied any political motives behind the coup charges that were brought against Kocharian shortly after he came to power in May 2018.
A senior aide to Sahakian, Davit Babayan, insisted that the letter to the chief Armenian prosecutor will not cause renewed friction between the Karabakh president and Pashinian.
“This move is not directed at Nikol Pashinian and there are no personal motives behind it,” Babayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Bako Sahakian has a good relationship with Nikol Pashinian.”
Pashinian’s publicly lambasted Karabakh leaders in November during Armenia’s parliamentary election campaign. One of the premier’s political allies, Sasun Mikaelian, declared at a campaign rally that last spring’s protest movement that brought Pashinian to power was more important than the Armenian victory in the Karabakh war.
Mikaelian’s remark was condemned by Armenian opposition politicians as well as senior officials in Stepanakert, including the spokesmen for Sahakian and General Levon Mnatsakanian, the then commander of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army.
Pashinian accused the Karabakh leadership of misinterpreting Mikaelian’s statement and “meddling” in the Armenian parliamentary race. Mnatsakanian was sacked in December.