Backers of former president Robert Kocharyan have called for his supporters to rally after he was arrested for the second time just two days ahead of pivotal parliamentary elections.
Kocharyan turned himself in to the authorities on December 7 after an appeals court decided that he should be re-arrested in connection with the violent breakup of protests in 2008. The same court had ruled in July that Kocharyan should be released after his first arrest.
Kocharyan is accused of “overthrowing the constitutional order” in connection with the 2008 events, in which 10 people were killed: eight protesters and two police officers. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was one of the key organizers of the protests against the election of Kocharyan’s successor, Serzh Sargsyan, which were widely viewed as rigged. As a result, Pashinyan spent two years in prison.
Shortly after the December 7 verdict, Kocharyan released a statement claiming that Pashinyan himself had ordered the arrest and that the court was not independent. “Today’s populist and incompetent leader of the country can not reconcile himself with my past, the results achieved during the years of my governance, my reputation in Armenia, Artsakh [Kocharyan had previously been de facto leader of Nagorno-Karabakh, known as “Artsakh” in Armenian] and abroad, as well as my political prospects.”
Kocharyan turned himself into the National Security Service, Hayk Alumyan, one of Kocharyan's attorneys, told journalists. Another of Kocharyan’s lawyers, Ruben Sahakyan, told journalists that his client was expecting the verdict and wasn’t bothered by it.
Kocharyan’s arrest came two days after the leak of a video disclosing conversations between Pashinyan and the head of the National Security Service, Artur Vanetsyan, which appeared to show the government’s involvement in Kocharyan’s first arrest.
Pashinyan himself posted the leak on his Facebook page saying that it was evidence of the former regime’s perfidy: “I want to ask a simple question: Why is this all being done? Because the corrupt system sees that the chain is tightening, the corrupt system sees that what we have promised will all be implemented right after the parliamentary elections and no one will be able to escape it.”
The last-minute surprise leak was a supplement to a similar video posted in September.
Kocharyan’s allies in the formerly ruling Republican Party accused Pashinyan of carrying out a political vendetta against Kocharyan: “Obviously, the government and Pashinyan personally ordered this detention in the pre-election period to heighten the atmosphere of fear in the country and to show force and pressure on their political opponents.”
Moscow was relatively quiet about Kocharyan’s arrest this time around, after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publicly chided Yerevan after the former president’s first detention.
But an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the arrest. “I certainly do not interfere either in the election campaign or in internal affairs, moreover, as far as I know, Robert Kocharyan himself in no way participated and does not participate in the election campaign, but I consider it a shame for Armenia that those who came in the spring of this year, the authorities, settle scores and take revenge on the person who did great services both for Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, ” said State Duma Deputy Konstantin Zatulin in an interview with the Armenian TV network 5th Channel.
The whole episode passed with little apparent effect on the elections, which Pashinyan won handily with the margin more or less predicted by opinion polls. Notably, as of 24 hours after the polls closed, Putin had yet to congratulate Pashinyan on his victory. The omission led to speculation in Yerevan; one popular pro-Pashinyan Telegram channel, Bagramyan 26, reported, citing “a source,” that while the Kremlin was preparing a congratulations message “it will be dry, in connection with the arrest of Robert Kocharyan.”
Kocharyan’s website announced that supporters would be “launching rallies” on December 11 to protest what it called “this terrible injustice” and “the current regime, which is trying to establish a monarchy.”
Ani Mejlumyan is a Yerevan-based reporter.
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