For the first time since his resignation as prime minister in 2018, former Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian is going to hold a press conference, his office has announced.
The former leader’s aides said that the press conference scheduled for August 19 will deal with the topic of the April 2016 fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been a matter of a parliamentary investigation during which Sarkisian was also summoned to testify in April.
During a rare and brief conversation with journalists then he promised to hold an extensive press conference after the end of the coronavirus-related state of emergency, which has been repeatedly extended in Armenia since then and is now due to end on September 11.
On August 7, Sarkisian posted on Facebook a series of short video messages in which he defended his government’s policies during the deadly hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2016 that he said amounted to an Armenian victory given that Azerbaijan failed to achieve its strategic goals.
He blamed the current government’s “failed fight against the pandemic” and the continuing state of emergency for his failure to meet the press and speak at length for the first time since his resignation in April 2018.
It is not clear why Sarkisian decided not to wait until the end of the state of emergency and decided to hold a press conference before the publication by the parliament’s ad hoc commission of a report on its inquiry into the “April war.”
Sarkisian office coordinator Meri Harutiunian said in a Facebook post on Monday that there will be some “interesting revelations” during the announced press conference.
Chairman of the parliament’s ad hoc committee Andranik Kocharian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) that they are waiting for Sarkisian’s “epochal revelations” to complete their report, on which they are still working. “If it becomes clear at the press conference that Sarkisian hid something from the committee, we will include that in the report, too,” Kocharian said.
Sarkisian, who barely held any news conference during his presidential tenure in 2008-2018, is likely to hold his largest press conference yet.
It is reported that all journalists accredited to the National Assembly, of whom there are about a hundred in Armenia, have been invited to attend the event, which, according to Sarkisian's office, will be held in the open-air space of Harsnakar, a restaurant complex in Yerevan owned by Ruben Hayrapetian, a fugitive member of the ex-president’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The former president’s choice of the venue for holding his first press conference in years has also drawn criticism. Harsnakar is a restaurant in Yerevan’s suburban district of Avan where in 2012 the bodyguards of its owner Hayrapetian beat a young military doctor to death. That incident sparked sustained protests by civil society and human rights activists that led to Hayrapetian’s giving up his parliamentary mandate.
Human rights activist Zhanna Aleksanian considers it remarkable that Sarkisian apparently does not even remember that a person was killed at the place where he plans a press conference. “Harsnakar is remembered only as a murder site. What is remarkable is that it doesn’t even cross their mind that they should reckon with the public opinion at least now that they are no longer in power,” she said.
Aleksanian also sees Sarkisian’s choice of the venue for his press conference as a way to show his support for Hayrapetian, who is wanted by Armenian authorities as part of two criminal investigations involving kidnapping, violent assault, extortion and illegal land privatization charges.
Hayrapetian left for Russia in March this year shortly before being indicted. In May, a Yerevan court agreed to issue an arrest warrant for Hayrapetian before investigators launched an international hunt for him.
Earlier this month Armenia’s Prosecutor’s Office learned that Hayrapetian has been a Russian citizen since 2003, an apparent reason for Moscow not to agree to extradite him.
Hayrapetian strongly denies all accusations leveled against him and the HHK rejects the cases against the former lawmaker and former head of Armenia’s soccer federation as politically motivated.