Calls for Robert Kocharian’s release from custody voiced by Nagorno-Karabakh’s present and former leaders reflect public opinion in the Armenian ex-president’s native region, the speaker of the Karabakh parliament said on Wednesday.
In a joint letter to Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian sent last week, Karabakh President Bako Sahakian and is predecessor Arkadi Ghukasian said Kocharian should be freed at least until a verdict in his trial. They cited his “huge contribution” to the Armenian victory in the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan.
Davtian’s office said in response that he is no longer in a position to grant such requests because the case has already been sent to a court in Yerevan.
The Karabakh leaders made a similar appeal to the court on Tuesday on the second day of Kocharian’s high-profile trial. They said they can guarantee that the ex-president will display “appropriate behavior” and not obstruct justice if set free.
The presiding judge responded by saying that both Sahakian and Ghukasian must come to the court and personally offer such guarantees. According to Kocharian’s lawyers, both men are ready to do so.
Ashot Ghulian, the Karabakh speaker, sought to justify those appeals during a visit to Yerevan. “I think that what has been presented and said is enough to understand that we are talking about not influencing the trial but changing the [pre-trial] arrest,” Ghulian said after holding talks with Armenian parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan.
“I want us to view that as being the result of purely humanitarian and friendly relationships,” he told reporters. “I’m sure -- and you probably also know that -- that there is such sentiment in Artsakh (Karabakh) and it’s impossible not to react to that sentiment.”
Ghulian noted in that regard that Karabakh’s three leading parliamentary parties jointly urged Kocharian’s release in late December, three weeks after the latter was again taken into custody on charges stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in the Armenian capital. One of those parties is led by the speaker.
Born and raised in Karabakh, Kocharian governed the Armenian-populated territory from 1992-1997. He denies the charges as politically motivated. Armenia’s current government and law-enforcement bodies deny any political motives behind his prosecution.
Kocharian’s continuing imprisonment provoked last week a war of words between Vitaly Balasanian, a senior Karabakh security official, and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s press secretary, Vladimir Karapetian. Balasanian criticized the Armenian authorities for not heeding the current and former Karabakh presidents’ appeals.
Mirzoyan, who is a key Pashinian ally, dismissed talk of mounting tensions between the authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert. But he did rebuke Balasanian, implying that the retired army general is already gearing up for a presidential election that will be held in Karabakh next year.
“I can understand that the pre-election period has already started in Artsakh but I would suggest that our partners don’t get ahead of events,” Mirzoyan told at a joint news conference with Ghulian. “With regard Mr. Balasanian’s statements, I would call for statements made in front of TV cameras to match assurances made in the absence of TV cameras.”