This past week, the “trial of the century” began in Yerevan. For the first time in the history of Armenia, the country’s former president is sitting on the defendant’s chair to respond to a series of grave accusations, including the overthrowing of the constitutional order, after the 2008 presidential elections.
According to the persecutors, illegal steps were taken to disperse the thousands of people who were gathering at the Freedom Square to protest the results of the elections. In the early morning hours, on March 1, 2008, government forces attacked peaceful demonstrator, who were spending the night at the Square. According to many eyewitnesses, brutal force was used to remove the protesters. As the news of this illegal operation spread, tens of thousands gathered at the Myasnikyan Monument to continue their protest. Later that night armed forces were called in and during the ensuing events ten people were killed and hundreds were injured.
Former president Robert Kocharyan is accused of breaking the constitutional rule, by pulling army units from the borders of Artsakh and involving them in the internal political processes.
Over the past ten years Armenia’s former authorities did not take any meaningful steps to conduct serious and transparent investigations into these tragic events, on the contrary, they tried to cover up the whole matter, hoping that it will be erased from the people’s memory. Precisely for these reasons, an opinion was formed among the relatives of the victims and the population at large that the “March 1” massacre and the punishment of those who were responsible in orchestrating it, could be achieved only after the removal of the old regime from power. Last May, the power shift took place and the “March 1” case was reopened.
As the trial began, Kocharyan’s supporters and members of his legal team are trying to shape the public opinion by circulating different versions of the events. They accuse Prime Minister Pashinyan of pursuing a vendetta against his political opponent. They blame the former president and leader of the People’s Movement of 2008, Levon Ter-Petrosian, for not calming down his supporters, but instead pushing them into “illegal” activities. Kocharyan himself claims that he was unaware of the secret decree number 0038, issued by the Defense Minister at the time, and on the basis of which the army units were brought to Yerevan. He denies that he was informed of the operation in the early morning, which involved beating and assaulting the protesters It seems that the person who, for ten years, ruled the country with an iron fist, establishing an authoritarian power, was in the dark the whole time and did not know what is happening around him. He is trying to place the whole blame on the shoulders of his subordinates and making it part of his defense strategy.
All these questions will be answered during the lengthy trial, which could take months or even years. The prosecutors are preparing to call 800 witnesses during the open trial. Defense lawyers have presented only 10 names as witnesses.
The importance of Kocharyan trial is not only in the fact that the truth may come to light, but also, it will serve as a lesson to all future leaders of the country, that no one is above the law, and no action against the people and the country can go unpunished.
The trial of Kocharyan and his other co-defendants is a proof that justice can sometimes be delayed, but it never comes too late.
Sooner or later justice will prevail.