YEREVAN — Investigators have summoned former President Robert Kocharian for questioning in connection with a deadly post-election crackdown on opposition protesters in Yerevan that occurred in March 2008 during the final weeks of his rule.
The recently appointed head of Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS), Sasun Khachatrian, told reporters on Wednesday that they want to interrogate him as a “witness.” “There are no inhibitions regarding the names [of individuals relevant to the investigation] and posts held by them,” he said.
Kocharian’s press secretary, Victor Soghomonian, said, meanwhile, that the former president has not yet received a summons from the SIS. He told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that Kocharian stands ready to testify over his actions before and during the worst street violence in Armenia’s history that followed a disputed presidential election.
Soghomonian said on Tuesday that the ex-president, who governed Armenia from 1998-2008, is not in the country at the moment.
SIS investigators have for years avoided questioning Kocharian or his successor Serzh Sarkisian amid opposition allegations of a cover-up of the use of lethal force against supporters of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian who protested against the official election results.
Eight protesters and two police servicemen were killed as security forces quelled the daily protests in Yerevan 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 presented Khachatrian to the law-enforcement agency’s senior staff on June 12.
On Tuesday, 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.”
In Khachatrian’s words, Harutiunian has not yet been arrested because he left the country before the launch of the criminal proceedings against him. The SIS chief did not comment on the former minister’s whereabouts.
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.
Kocharian has repeatedly defended the post-election crackdown in the past, saying that it prevented a violent 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.