In a move that could very well hamper rather than promote political reconciliation in Armenia, the country's leading opposition politician, Levon Ter-Petrosian, is mounting a campaign to have former president Robert Kocharian tried for "heavy crimes" against the Armenian people.
The allegation is connected with the March 1 events in Yerevan, when at least 10 fatalities resulted from a clash between security forces and opposition protesters. [For background see the Armenia: Election 2008 special feature]. Since then, the political healing process has made scant progress. President Serzh Sargsyan, who was declared the winner of the controversial presidential election in February, has made reform promises, but his administration has been slow to implement reconciliation measures. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Ter-Petrosian loyalists have likewise no let go of hard feelings.
Ter-Petrosian's new campaign re-airs longstanding opposition grievances against Kocharian, accusing the former president of an "autocratic" and "despotic" rule that led to "bloodshed" -- allegedly, in 1999, when gunmen killed eight senior officials in parliament, and, again, on March 1. [For background, see the Eurasia Insight archive.] The petition demands "an independent, international inquiry" into the events of March 1 and that Kocharian be turned "over to the international court in The Hague."
Neither of the two international courts based in The Hague -- the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court -- appears to have jurisdiction over any potential case against Kocharian, however. The International Court of Justice only hears cases brought against states. While the International Criminal Court can try individuals for broad-based crimes such as genocide, war crimes or systematic political persecution (committed after 2002), it cannot try individuals who are citizens of non-signatory states. Armenia has not yet signed the 1998 Rome Statute establishing the court.
But while the legal intent may be fuzzy, opposition leaders nonetheless maintain that that the campaign can possibly trigger enough attention to secure a hearing. Opposition activists, however, refrain from providing details.
Ter-Petrosian spokesperson Arman Musinian claims that the campaign has so far collected more than 100,000 signatures from Yerevan and various provinces for Kocharian to stand trial. "The signature collection is continuing. The process is ongoing," Musinian said.
That fact alone is what worries one politician. Azerbaijan, claims Shavarsh Kocharian, leader of the National Democratic Party, could use Ter-Petrosian's drive to bolster its own claims that Armenian officials were guilty of ethnic cleansing, genocide and war crimes against Azerbaijanis in the ongoing dispute over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. "This step
Marianna Grigoryan is a reporter for the ArmeniaNow.com weekly in Yerevan.