Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Friday reacted cautiously to repeated calls for former President Robert Kocharian’s release from custody made by Nagorno-Karabakh’s current and former leaders.
Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, and his predecessor Arkadi Ghukasian appeared before a court in Yerevan on Thursday to guarantee in writing Kocharian’s “appropriate behavior” in case of his release. They also deposited 500,000 drams (just over $1,000) each.
Sahakian and Ghukasian also appealed to Armenia’s prosecutor-general for the same purpose on May 7, one week before the Karabakh-born ex-president went on trial on charges stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
“[Sahakian] told me about that the day before his appeal and I expressed my attitude: from the moral standpoint I find it normal, but from the political standpoint there are some questions,” the TASS news agency quoted Pashinian as saying.
“How would a court in Karabakh react if I tried to vouch for someone?” he added.
Kocharian, 64, ruled Karabakh for five years before becoming Armenia’s president in 1998. He was first arrested in July last year two months after Pashinian swept to power in a wave of mass protests that toppled Kocharian’s successor, Serzh Sarkisian. The ex-president rejects the coup and corruption charges brought against him as politically motivated, saying that investigators have been acting on Pashinian’s orders.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied political motives behind the high-profile case. Still, he has long held Kocharian responsible for the 2008 violence which left eight protesters and two police officers dead.
According to TASS, Pashinian dismissed suggestions that many Karabakh Armenians could turn on him because of Kocharian’s prosecution. He said he may be even more popular in Karabakh than in Armenia.
Speaking in Yerevan earlier this week, the speaker of the Karabakh parliament, Ashot Ghulian, said Sahakian’s and Ghukasian’s efforts to have Kocharian freed pending the outcome of his trial reflect public opinion in the ex-president’s native region.
Kocharian’s continuing imprisonment provoked last week bitter recriminations between Vitaly Balasanian, a senior Karabakh security official, and Pashinian’s press secretary, Vladimir Karapetian. Balasanian criticized the authorities in Yerevan for not heeding the Karabakh leaders’ appeals.
Some observers have speculated that the court’s refusal to order Kocharian’s release would heighten friction between Yerevan and Stepanakert.
Commenting on such a possibility, Andranik Kocharian (no relation to the ex-president), the pro-Pashinian chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security, said: “It is inadmissible to undermine relations between Armenia an Artsakh (Karabakh), and any activity that could enable such an escalation must be nipped in the bud.”
“Robert Kocharian is not the kind of topic for which it’s worth jeopardizing our joint security system,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.