YEREVAN — Yerevan court of general jurisdiction held on Monday the first, preliminary hearing in the trial of Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharyan and three other former senior officials prosecuted in connection with the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
The hearing focused on defense lawyers’ demands for another judge to preside over the high-profile trial. The ex-president was therefore the only defendant present in the courtroom.
The other defendants are the former presidential chief of staff Armen Gevorgyan and retired army Generals Seyran Ohanyan and Yuri Khachaturov. Unlike Kocharyan, they are not held in detention.
Kocharyan, Gevorgyan, Ohanyan and Khachaturov stand accused of “overthrowing the constitutional order” in the wake of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008. Investigators say they illegally used Armenian army units against supporters of the main opposition presidential candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosian, who protested against alleged electoral fraud.
All four men deny the charges. Kocharyan says that they are part of a political “vendetta” waged by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Eight protesters and two police servicemen were killed as security forces quelled the post-election protests on March 1-2, 2008. Kocharyan ordered army units into central Yerevan during the violence.
Khachaturov served as deputy defense minister while Ohanyan was the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff at the time. Ohanyan has repeatedly denied the army’s involvement in the post-election political processes.
Earlier this year, Kocharyan was also charged with receiving a $3 million bribe from an Armenian businesswoman, Silva Hambardzumyan. Prosecutors say that Hambardzumyan also paid a separate $1 million kickback to Gevorgyan. The latter became Armenia’s deputy prime minister after Kocharyan handed over power to Serzh Sarkgyan in April 2008.
The ex-president’s lawyers also demanded on Monday that the presiding judge, Davit Grigoryan, recuse himself from the high-profile case. They said he cannot be trusted because earlier this year he declined to rule on their petition to free Kocharyan from pre-trial custody. They also claimed that Grigoryan has not had enough time to thoroughly examine materials of the criminal case.
The prosecution led by Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Artur Davtyan as well as a lawyer representing the families of people killed in March 2008 objected to the demand. Grigoryan will announce on Tuesday whether he will continue to preside over the trial.
Kocharyan’s presidency also saw one of the bloodiest events in Armenia’s post-independence political history — a terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament in 1999.
Opposition parties have accused Kocharyan of organizing the attack in which five gunmen killed his political foes including prime minister Vazgen Sargsyan and parliament speaker Karen Demirchyan.