A lawyer for Robert Kocharian said on Tuesday that the former Armenian president did not break any laws when he ordered army units into the streets of Yerevan during the 2008 post-election unrest.
“The legislation of the Republic of Armenia explicitly allows and has always allowed the use of the armed forces for quelling mass riots,” Hayk Alumian told reporters.
Alumian cited a constitutional provision saying that the Armenian military must deal with both external and internal security threats to the country. “Internal security includes, among other things, riots, terrorist acts, ecological disasters and so on,” he said.
Kocharian is currently under arrest, facing accusations of bribery and overthrow of the constitutional order denied by him as politically motivated. The coup charge stems from the violent suppression on March 1-2, 2008 of opposition protests in Yerevan against alleged fraud in a presidential election officially won by his preferred successor, Serzh Sarkisian. Eight protesters and two police servicemen died on that night.
Kocharian as well as three retired army generals are specifically accused of illegally using the army against the protesters. The Special Investigative Service (SIS) says that the ex-president ordered troops to enter the Armenian capital before declaring a state of emergency late on March 1, 2008. It cites a secret directive which was issued to the Armenian military on February 23, 2008 by then Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian.
Alumian and other lawyers representing Kocharian claimed earlier that the directive was meant to prevent the army’s involvement in the dramatic post-election developments. They said that Levon Ter-Petrosian, who was the main opposition candidate in the 2008 ballot, tried to get the army to back the protests and that two deputy defense ministers sided with him. They both were sacked in April 2008.
Alumian insisted on Tuesday army soldiers were not involved in the deadly street clashes between the protesters and security forces. He said they were only tasked with preventing the seizure of key government buildings by the protesters.
The lawyer also argued that Ter-Petrosian, who served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, himself deployed troops in the center of Yerevan in the wake of another disputed presidential election held in September 1996. Ter-Petrosian declared a state of emergency at the time after opposition protests against his allegedly fraudulent reelection turned violent.