The ringleader, Vartanian, and a dozen other individuals were arrested in November 2015 in a dawn raid on their hideout in Yerevan jointly conducted by Armenia’s police and National Security Service (NSS). The law-enforcement bodies found large quantities of weapons and explosives stashed there. They made more than 20 other arrests in the following weeks.
The NSS said afterwards that Vartanian set up a group called the Armenian Shield Regiment before drawing up with his associates detailed plans for the seizure of the presidential administration, government, parliament and state television buildings in Yerevan. It said they also explored the possibility of shooting down President Sarkisian’s plane.
Vartanian admitted acquiring weapons and ammunition for the militant group when he and 19 other persons went on trial in December 2016. He insisted, however, that he never intended to seize power or assassinate Sarkisian.
Most of the other defendants, including an Armenian Catholic priest, also rejected the coup charges brought against them.
The judge presiding over the continuing trial agreed to free Vartanian on bail in September 2019. All other arrested suspects were released from custody earlier pending a court verdict in the case. Two of them had joined Vartanian in challenging their pre-trial arrest in the ECHR.
The Strasbourg-based court ruled this week that the detention period was too long and unjustified and violated a relevant article of the European Convention on Human Rights. It said that Vartanian and another plaintiff, Harutiun Saribekian, must each be paid 6,000 euros ($6,300) in damages.
Vartanian expressed his satisfaction with the ECRH ruling when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian on Friday after the latest session of his protracted trial.
“The European Court found that justifications presented by prosecutors and investigators were unfounded,” he said.
Vartanian reportedly lived in Spain before returning to Armenia in April 2015 and setting up the Armenian Shield Regiment.
According to the NSS, core members of the group underwent secret military training in Vartanian’s paternal village in August-September 2015. Investigators released in late 2016 a photograph, purportedly taken in a village house, of ten masked and armed persons standing under the group’s banner.