Former President Robert Kocharian on Thursday accused investigators of withholding evidence of his innocence in the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
Speaking on the fourth day of his closely watched trial, Kocharian singled out a recently publicized video which purportedly shows a protester firing gunshots during the March 1, 2008 clashes between security forces and opposition supporters who had barricaded themselves in the city center. His lawyers submitted a copy of the video to the presiding judge.
Eight protesters and two police servicemen died in the clashes which broke out just over a month before Kocharian completed his second term in office and handed over power to his preferred successor, Serzh Sarkisian. The latter was the official winner of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008.
Sarkisian’s main challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, refused to concede defeat, alleging widespread fraud. Ter-Petrosian and his supporters staged daily demonstrations in Yerevan’s Liberty Square to demand a rerun of the vote.
Kocharian told the court that the video in question was shot by Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS). He said the then NSS director, Gorik Hakobian, also showed him video evidence of “a number of other episodes” of the worst street violence in Armenia’s history.
“These were quite interesting materials: [they showed] how a grenade exploded, how the police captain (the first victim of the clashes) was killed by the grenade explosion,” he claimed. “All this was part of the materials [of the criminal case,] it’s not anymore.”
Kocharian declared a three-week state of emergency and ordered Armenian army units into central Yerevan late on March 1, 2008. He and his lawyers maintain that the crackdown was justified because the anti-government protests turned violent.
The trial prosecutors and the Special Investigative Service (SIS), which has conducted the probe, did not immediately respond to the allegation that they have withheld exculpatory evidence from the court.
The SIS says that Kocharian began massing troops in and around the capital one week before introducing emergency rule. It says that this violated Armenia’s constitution and amounted to an “overthrow of the constitutional order.”
The law-enforcement agency has brought the same coup charges against the former chief of presidential staff Armen Gevorgian and retired army Generals Seyran Ohanian and Yuri Khachaturov. Ohanian was the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff while Khachaturov served as deputy defense minister in March 2008. All four defendants deny the accusations.
Armenian law-enforcement authorities blamed the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition for the 2008 violence until last year’s “velvet revolution” which brought Nikol Pashinian to power. They arrested and jailed in 2008-2010 dozens of Ter-Petrosian loyalists, including Pashinian, for organizing the “mass disturbances” in a bid to seize power. The latter denied the accusations as politically motivated.
The SIS first arrested Kocharian in July last year, two months after Pashinian was elected prime minister.