A day after being released on bail, Armenia's former president Robert Kocharyan was forced to cancel a press conference that was broken up by protesters who stormed the hall in which it was to be held.
Video of the August 14 event showed a large group of demonstrators shouting “Robert murderer!” and forcefully bursting into the site. Kocharyan fled the scene through the back entrance of the building. Protesters then headed to the office of the general prosecutor to demand that Kocharyan be arrested again.
“The revolution has already taken place in Armenia, the authorities are trying to impose justice, and citizens as well want to help fulfill that justice,” said Davit Petrosyan, one of the activists who organized the demonstration and one of the key student leaders in the protests that brought Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to power three months ago.
Pashinyan, in a Facebook video shortly after the episode, assured his supporters that justice would eventually be done: “All individuals who committed crimes against the state and the people will be held accountable,” he said. “Rest assured that in Armenia there is no force capable of taking on the people’s power and stopping the victory of the popular revolution … Whoever tries to stand in our way will end up in the garbage dump of history.”
The day before, Kocharyan was released after spending two weeks in detention on charges related to the events of March 2008, when Kocharyan was president and security forces violently broke up an opposition protest. Eight protesters and two police officers were killed.
The prosecution of Kocharyan, along with several other officials from previous administrations, have been dogged by accusations of politicization. Pashinyan himself was an organizer of the 2008 protests and spent time in prison as a result. The Special Investigative Service (SIS), which has led the prosecution, reports to Pashinyan and its head is a political appointee.
The SIS objected to the court's decision to release Kocharyan on bail, saying it had “overstepped the bounds of its authority.” Kocharyan was released on the basis of a provision in the Armenian constitution that gives legal immunity to presidents for actions carried out as part of their official status.
Kocharyan had previously said that the charges against him were politically motivated, and the scuttlebutt in Armenia ahead of the press conference was that Kocharyan was going to use it to announce his return to politics.
One analyst, Stepan Grigoryan, suggested that Kocharyan may have been released because Armenia's foreign partners were concerned about the politicization of the case. “Not because anyone loves or doesn't love Kocharyan, but because in general the international community doesn't like it when former heads of state are imprisoned or arrested,” he told the BBC Russian service.
Another analyst pointed the finger at Russia: Kocharyan's detention “symbolized the future of many post-Soviet dictators, including [Russian President] Vladimir Putin himself,” Ruben Megrabyan told the BBC.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had explicitly criticized Armenia for the arrests, saying they “can not not concern us.”
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.