Ex-president Kocharyan questioned over Armenia’s deadly 2008 crackdown

4 July 2018
1 March 2008 protests in Yerevan (Wikicommons)

Former Armenian president Robert Kocharyan has been summoned for questioning over the March 2008 crackdown on protests that left 10 dead. The authorities issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday for former Defence Minister Mikael Harutyunyan, who is out of the country, for using military force against the opposition rallies.

The Special Investigation Service, which investigates crimes by officials, accused Harutyunyan of breaching the constitution through giving a clandestine order to involve the army into a political process.

They said the authorities had no grounds to enforce ‘martial law’, as article 55 of the Constitution allows the declaration of martial law only if the country is under armed attack or there is an imminent danger thereof. President Kocharyan declared a state of emergency on 1 March.

Robert Kocharyan

The Special Investigation Service also argued that involving the military in civilian and political matters violated article 8 of the Constitution, which says that armed forces are to maintain neutrality in political matters. They said that by quashing ‘peaceful protests’, the authorities usurped power and ‘deprived people of their right to exercise their sovereignty through elections’.

In May 2010, an Armenian parliamentary fact-finding group reported that  Defence Minister Mikael Harutyunyan’s 23 February order violated Constitution and a Law on Defence.

Another former Defense Minister, Seyran Ohanyan, who was serving as Chief of Staff of the armed forces in 2008, was also ‘recently’ questioned by investigators, news.am reports.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, the head of the Special Investigation Service, Sasun Khachatryan, said investigators will speak with anyone who might provide information on the case, regardless of who they are. Khachatryan was appointed in June by the government of new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

2008 crackdown

The case concerns the dispersal of mass protests in Yerevan on 1 March 2008 after Serzh Sargsyan was declared the winner of presidential elections. The opposition rallied for around 10 days claiming Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the first Armenian President, from 1991–1998, was the rightful winner and demanding a recount. The initial protests were reportedly authorised by the authorities and were then followed by ‘spontaneous’ protests.

The authorities did not intervene until 1 March, according to allegations against Armenia at the European Court of Human Rights. Opposition parties claimed the crackdown involved not only civilian law enforcement agencies, but also the army, as outgoing President Kocharyan declared a state of emergency. A number of prominent opposition politicians were arrested in the aftermath.

1 March 2008, Yerevan

Commenting on the arrest warrant out for Harutyunyan, the head of the National Security Service, Artur Vanetsyan, said that Harutyunyan did not flee the country, as when he left Armenia there were no criminal proceedings against him.

In March 2018, the then opposition Yelk block, of which Prime Minister Pashinyan is a part, condemned the use of lethal force against protesters in the wake of the 19 February 2008 presidential election. On 6 March, Pashinyan requested that the Prosecutor's Office question ex-President Kocharyan on his claims, which were reiterated by other members of the Republican Party, that the March protesters were armed and shot at police.

[Read more about the March 2018 resolution on OC Media: Armenia’s parliament to discuss deadly 2008 crackdown]

Of the families of the 10 deceased, nine appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2011, according to the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), who is representing them in court. The court has yet to make a judgement on the case.

This article was amended on 6 July 2018.

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