YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Investigators moved to arrest Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharian on Thursday after filing criminal charges against him stemming from a deadly 2008 crackdown on opposition protesters in Yerevan which was ordered by him.
The Special Investigative Service (SIR) charged Kocharian with “overthrowing constitutional order of Armenia” during the final weeks of his rule. The SIS asked a Yerevan court to remand him in pre-trial custody.
The extraordinary move followed Kocharian’s first-ever interrogation by SIS officials investigating the use of lethal force against supporters of Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition candidate in the February 2008 presidential election.
Ter-Petrosian staged nonstop demonstrations against what he regarded as fraudulent results of the vote that gave victory to Sarkisian. Eight protesters and two police servicemen were killed as security forces quelled the protests on the night from March 1-2, 2008. Nobody has been prosecuted in connection with those deaths so far.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who was a key backer of Ter-Petrosian in 2008, told the SIS to finally solve the killings when he appointed a new head of the law-enforcement agency, Sasun Khachatrian, on June 12. Shortly afterwards, the SIS decided to question Kocharian as a witness in the case.
The SIS gave no details of the interrogation which apparently lasted for between two and three hours. Khachatrian told reporters earlier in the day that it will be videotaped. He made clear that the video will not be made public.
Journalists waiting outside the main entrance to the SIS headquarters in Yerevan did not see Kocharian. The 63-year-old ex-president, who governed Armenia from 1998-2008,made his way into the building through another entrance.
Kocharian has repeatedly defended the post-election crackdown in the past, saying that it prevented a violent of seizure of power by the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition. Earlier this year, he blamed Pashinian for the post-election bloodshed. Pashinian was the main speaker at the anti-government protest broken up on that night.
Early this month, the SIS issued an arrest warrant for retired General Mikael Harutiunian, who served as defense minister during the 2008 unrest. It charged Harutiunian with illegally using the armed forces against the protesters, saying that amounted to an “overthrow of constitutional order.”
Kocharian declared a state of emergency and ordered army units into downtown Yerevan late on March 1, 2008 amid vicious clashes between protesters and security forces trying to disperse them. According to the SIS, Harutiunian started “illegally” deploying troops in the Armenian capital a week before the unrest.
On July 9, a spokesman for Kocharian denounced the accusations levelled against the fugitive ex-genera l as a “mockery of the law”