Special Army Units Accused Of Firing At People In 2008 Post-Election Unrest

Armenia -- Tanks on the streets of Yerevan following deadly clashes, March 2, 2008

The army not only participated in quelling post-election protests in Armenia in 2008, but also fired at people and residential buildings, a top Armenian investigator insisted on Tuesday, referring to special army units allegedly formed by former authorities for the purpose.

Sasun Khachatrian, the head of the Special Investigative Service (SSS), held a joint press conference with Director of the National Security Service (NSS) Artur Vanetsian convened at short notice following a wiretapping scandal that broke out on Tuesday.

A secretly recorded audio of telephone conversations of the two concerning the prosecution of ex-President Robert Kocharian and other former officials in connection with the deadly events of March 1-2, 2008 was leaked to the press by an anonymous source in an apparent attempt to show that the administration of recently elected Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian allegedly influenced the judiciary in related cases.

Pashinian, who came to power on the wave of last spring’s peaceful street protests with an agenda of political reforms and anti-corruption struggle, has brushed aside the accusations, stressing that his government “will not yield to blackmail” and will press ahead with anti-corruption cases and reopened investigations into alleged crimes committed by former officials.

Kocharian and several other senior former officials are accused of breaching the constitution by ordering the use of the army to quell opposition protests in the wake of a disputed presidential election in 2008. Ten people, including two security officers, were killed in the violence.

The investigation of the events conducted during the 10-year presidency of Serzh Sarkisian, Kocharian’s longtime ally and hand-picked successor, revealed no one who could be charged in connection with the killings.

After the change of government ex-president Kocharian was taken into custody on July 28, but an appeals court released him on August 13, finding that the Armenian constitution gives him immunity from prosecution. Prosecutors have appealed the decision at a higher judicial instance since. In the meantime, a decision has been made not to allow Kocharian to leave Armenia pending investigation.

At today’s press conference SIS head Khachatrian disclosed some details of the investigation, arguing that investigators have proof of the army’s involvement in the events.

“Our investigation has already established that the army not only participated in the events of March 1-2, 2008, but also fired in the direction of people, apartments, that is, the army fully participated in these actions. Secondly, I want to disclose more details that I frankly did not want to do, but today there is an occasion for that and the public should know it. After the secret order when it was decided to gather servicemen from different military units in Yerevan, soldiers were in service at border posts without shifts, as a result a very dangerous situation was created, and you know that there was an [Azerbaijani commando] raid,” Khachatrian said.

Special Investigation Service head Sasun Khachatrian, Yerevan, 11Sept, 2018

According to the top investigator, the most disgraceful thing that happened to the army during those days was that the country’s then leaders “turned soldier into mercenaries and used them against the people.”

“Within the framework of the criminal case it has already been established that in the period after February 23, [2008] and until March 7-8, [2008] oligarchs gave money to soldiers to protect them, their property, their political aspirations,” the SIS head said, showing an original register “with names and signatures of soldiers and their commanders and sums of payments that were made from [bank] accounts of oligarchs and senior officials.”

When asked whether the SIS was going to make those names public, Khachatrian replied: “I will give the names later. Why name them now? Only for them to run away?”

According to the SIS head, the current investigation has also acquired proof that one of the two servicemen killed in the unrest was killed by the police task force. “Tigran Abgarian was killed after Robert Kocharian declared a state of emergency, but before there were any wounded. Our theory is that Abgarian was [fatally] wounded in order to ground the words of Robert Kocharian that there were victims,” Khachatrian said.