A group of supporters of Robert Kocharian on Wednesday claimed to have collected 60,000 signatures in support of its demands for the release of Armenia’s arrested former president facing corruption and coup charges.
Aghvan Vartanian, a veteran politician leading the newly formed Committee for President Kocharian’s Freedom, said 40,000 people backed its petition online. The other signatures were collected in person in various parts of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, he told reporters.
“These are real signatures of citizens,” said Vartanian, who served as Armenia’s labor minister during Kocharian’s rule. He said that although “thousands” of them are ready to take to the streets the committee is not yet planning any demonstrations in Yerevan.
Kocharian as well as three other former officials, who are not held in detention, are currently standing trial on charges mostly stemming from the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan. They are specifically accused of illegally using Armenian army units against opposition protesters.
They all deny the accusations. Kocharian has repeatedly described them as politically motivated.
Vartanian also alleged political motives behind the high-profile case. He claimed that the ex-president remains behind bars because of illegal court decisions ordered by the current Armenian government.
The authorities dismiss such claims. Alen Simonian, a senior member of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step alliance, said on Wednesday that Kocharian cannot be portrayed as a victim of political persecution because he has long ceased to be a “political entity” in Armenia.
Simonian also said: “To be honest, I don’t believe in the existence of those 60,000 signatures.”
Vartanian is a former leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). He was expelled from Dashnaktsutyun in May 2018 because of his refusal to back Pashinian’s appointment as prime minister during Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution.”
Dashnaktsutyun supported Pashinian and joined his first cabinet at the time. It has been in opposition to Pashinian since October 2018. Dashnaktsutyun’s current leaders have also condemned Kocharian’s prosecution.