Alik Sargsian, a former chief of the Armenian police, has been charged with covering up what law-enforcement authorities now describe as security forces’ illegal post-election crackdown on opposition protesters in Yerevan in 2008.
Sargsian was named to run the national police service shortly after former President Robert Kocharian handed over power to Serzh Sarkisian, his preferred successor and the official winner of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008. Sarkisian took office in April 2008 just over a month after violent street clashes in Yerevan which left eight protesters and two police personnel dead.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said on Wednesday evening that later in 2008 two aides to the new Armenian president ordered senior police officers, including Alik Sargsian, to destroy evidence of the “overthrow of the constitutional order” led by Kocharian.
An SIS statement claimed that the officers forged and backdated documents justifying the use of force against supporters of opposition presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian, who staged daily demonstrations against alleged vote rigging. It said they also helped to cover up the Armenian army’s alleged involvement in the crackdown which investigators say was illegal.
Sargsian, who headed the police until 2011, flatly denied the accusations of abuse of power, forgery and cover-up leveled against him. “I have nothing to do with the March 1 [2008 events,]” said the retired police general who served as a provincial governor during the deadly violence.
Sargsian, who was not arrested despite facing the grave charges, said he will not hire a lawyer for now. “I don’t yet feel the need to have a defender,” he said.
One of the presidential aides mentioned in the SIS statement, Gevorg Kostanian, was subsequently appointed as Armenia’s prosecutor-general, while the other, Gevorg Mherian, became a deputy chief of the national police. Mherian was shot dead by an unknown gunman in February 2009. Nobody has been prosecuted in connection with his murder.
The SIS did not indict Kostanian, who was elected to Armenia’s former parliament in 2017 on the then ruling Republican Party’s ticket. Kostanian on Thursday dismissed the “nonsensical” allegations made by the law-enforcement body investigating the dramatic events of February-March 2008.
The SIS statement came two days after Alik Sargsian’s predecessor as police chief, Hayk Harutiunian, was found shot to death in his home. Law-enforcement authorities suggested that he committed suicide.
Harutiunian was repeatedly interrogated by investigators as a witness in the case. The SIS claimed on Wednesday that he too had signed “official documents containing false information and records” about the 2008 crackdown.
Two Armenian news websites reported on Tuesday that moments before his death Harutiunian complained that he is being pressured by the authorities to give false incriminating testimony against Kocharian. Law-enforcement officials denied those reports.
Kocharian is currently under arrest, standing trial, along with three other former officials, on coup charges. He rejects them as politically motivated.