In February-March 2022, Armenia's National Security Service declared with great fanfare that it had exposed and neutralized a network of foreign agents in both Armenia and then-Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh.
It released several videos showing soldiers in uniform being arrested for treason.
Charges were filed against several dozen soldiers (no precise number was given), many of whom, according to the security agency, "transmitted various types of military information from the battlefield at the instruction of a foreign intelligence service" during the Second Karabakh War against Azerbaijan in 2020.
Two years later, those cases are starting to fall apart for lack of evidence.
Several of the soldiers, including officers, have been cleared of the charges at the preliminary investigation stage and set free.
Eurasianet spoke to two lawyers representing a total of five of the defendants. They say it's likely that the majority of the treason cases lack evidence and therefore lack legal merit.
Lawyer Artur Harutyunyan, who represents two such defendants, said that some of the treason cases follow a similar pattern.
"People would come under suspicion of state treason solely because they established communication in social networks with members of the opposite sex in a neighboring country [Azerbaijan]. The fact of such communication proved sufficient for the investigative agencies to bring charges of state treason, though they did not go into the details of this communication," he said.
He added that, in the case of one of his clients, "It was just online correspondence of a personal nature between him and a woman."
This client, who Arutyunyan refused to name, was arrested and charged with state treason in February 2022. After being held in custody for four months, he was released because of problems with the evidence against him. But the investigation continued.
"Then the investigative body started saying that my client might have committed a crime not intentionally, but through negligence. But time has shown that he did no such thing. Months later, in summer 2023, the charge was dropped as the investigative body found itself at a dead end because of lack of evidence," Arutyunyan said.
Arutyunyan has another client facing a treason charge. His case - which Arutyunyan says has a lot in common with the first one - has been handed over to the court.
Another lawyer, Aleksandr Kochubayev, represents three servicemen charged with treason. He also spoke to Eurasianet about problems with evidence against his clients. One of those clients is Taron Karapetyan, a 32-year-old officer in the Armenian Army with over 15 years of service. He was arrested on March 3, 2022, on charges of state treason.
He was also arrested for corresponding online with a social media account whose profile picture was an image of a young woman. He acknowledged his correspondence with the account but said it was of an "exclusively personal nature."
The fate of his case was very similar to that of Arutyunyan's client. Investigative measures took nearly four months, during which Karapetyan was held in custody. In June 2022 the officer was cleared of the charges and released.
His family and army unit were both convinced of his innocence, but the criminal case against him and his time under arrest has cast a shadow on his reputation and career. The ordeal has caused him great emotional distress, according to his lawyer.
Both lawyers note that the Armenian government has not paid any compensation to their wrongfully charged clients. Taron Karapetyan has continued to serve, but Artur Harutyunyan's client has left the army.
"After this, it became extremely difficult for him to continue his military service," the lawyer said.
The situation has been further complicated by the tense political situation. At the time of the arrests in early 2022, the country was still reeling from the political crisis caused by Armenia's defeat in the Second Karabakh War in late 2020.
Throughout 2021 the political discourse in Armenia centered around who was to blame for the defeat. The "traitor" epithet was traded liberally between opposition politicians and those in government. The incumbent authorities' re-election in snap parliamentary polls in June of that year only partially mitigated the tensions.
It was in this sensitive atmosphere that the authorities needed alleged "spies" to deflect criticism and public discontent away from themselves, according to Kochubayev, the lawyer.
"There was an attempt to create the impression that there were many cases of state treason in the armed forces," he said.
Last November, Factor.am reported that 10 of the 16 officers (out of the unknown total number of soldiers) charged with treason had been cleared and released.
Kochubayev believes the state must actively engage in rehabilitating the wrongly accused treason defendants. "How can it be just to place such a stigma on a person and then not even apologize publicly?" the lawyer wonders.
Technically speaking, the investigative bodies have not revealed the identities of the treason suspects, referring to them only by their initials and blurring their faces in the arrest videos. But law-enforcement press releases give information about the nature of the soldiers' service, and in a small country like Armenia, it doesn't take much effort to find out who they are.
This places both the soldiers and their families at risk of stigmatization and bullying.
"Just imagine how people might treat them and their families after such a thing. This is just unacceptable. And it's happening despite the fact that there is a very clear rule that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty in court," said Arutyunyan, the lawyer.
Arshaluis Mgdesyan is a journalist based in Yerevan.