YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — General Samvel Karapetyan of Nagorno-Karabakh’s armed forces led the operation on the suppression of post-election demonstrations in Armenia in 2008 and his group, visited by former Armenian presidents Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian, had expressed readiness to “shoot at people,” the BBC Russian Service writes in its August 7 article, citing documents of the investigation that it says it got “exclusive access” to.
Based on the documents, the BBC suggests that Armenian investigators think that fire at demonstrators was opened by a Karabakh task force led by General Karapetyan (also known as Oganovsky), whose group was housed in the basement of the presidential administration.
Then outgoing President Robert Kocharian and his future successor Serzh Sarkisian, who served as prime minister at that time, visited the group there several times, the BBC writes, adding that Armenian investigators are also checking the roles of two influential businessmen – Gagik Tsarukyan and Samvel Aleksanyan – who may have financed the Karabakh task force’s stay in Yerevan during the days of the demonstration.
Both Tsarukyan and Aleksanyan, the publication says, deny their roles in the 2008 events.
The BBC says when interrogated as a witness in August 2018, Major-General Karapetyan confirmed that he commanded Karabakh detachments that were deployed in Yerevan in 2008. The BBC says it has a copy of the protocol of the interrogation that lasted for four hours. At the time of the interrogation Karapetyan served as deputy defense minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, but stepped down in April 2019.
“According to investigators, Karapetyan formed a special group of 20 from his subordinates, which was housed in the basement of the presidential residence on Marshal Baghramyan Avenue [in Yerevan]. There, members of the group ‘were visited several times by President Robert Kocharian and [the president-elect] Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian,’ the investigator said during the interrogation of Karapetyan. All members of the group expressed their readiness to ‘shoot at people’ if there was an order, and it was this group that shot at the protesters on March 1,  according to the investigation. During the interrogation, Karapetyan denied all charges and stated that ‘no one gave the order to shoot at people.’ Similar charges against Karapetyan were voiced during interrogations of several more witnesses. The witnesses could not confirm or deny information about his role in the March 1 events,” the BBC said in its report.
Responding to the BBC story, lawyers of Kocharian, who is currently in detention on charges of overthrowing the constitutional order by illegally involving the military in quelling the 2008 demonstrations, denied that materials of the case against their client contain “a single circumstance that would corroborate” the assumptions made in the BBC story.
“I insist that in the case presented to us there is not a single piece of testimony in which this circumstance is confirmed. I will tell you more – had there been at least one testimony corroborating this circumstance, it would have already been included in the indictment and published in various possible ways,” Kocharian’s lawyer Hovhannes Khudoyan said at a news conference in Yerevan on Wednesday.
Khudoyan and his colleague Aram Orbelyan also insisted that none of the witnesses confirmed the circumstances laid out in the BBC story and that the assumptions are based on the questions posed to witnesses by their interrogators.
“The problem is not that someone confirmed it and we are saying that he was wrong. In fact, it has been totally refuted, at least according to the materials provided to us and according to the information that is known to us,” said Orbelyan.
Ten people, including two security officers, were killed as Armenian authorities used force on March 1-2, 2008 to quell nonstop opposition demonstrations protesting against the outcome of a disputed presidential election.
According to the investigation, the victims died of different causes, including gunshot wounds, injuries from fragments of tear gas canisters and blunt objects.
Orbelyan referred to this circumstance to refute the allegation that a task force had been employed to shoot at the crowd. He implied that if it had been the case, most, if not all, of the victims would have died because of gunshots.
Seda Safaryan, who represents the interests of a victim in the ‘March 1’ case, however, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday that there is testimony in the case that confirms the involvement of a Karabakh task force in the suppression of demonstrations in Yerevan. She also said that what was published by the BBC is not something new.
“In organizing all this both presidents [Nagorno-Karabakh natives Kocharian and Sarkisian] were not sure that Armenia-born Armenians will agree to shoot at Armenia-born Armenians… and both felt confident only when they deployed Karabakh forces in Armenia,” Safaryan claimed.
In an interview with the local online publication, Tert.am, Karapetyan today called the BBC story “a tale”.
The prosecutors in the case have refused to comment on the BBC article “lest it should damage the course of the investigation.”
Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) later on Wednesday, the author of the BBC article, Grigor Atanesyan, stressed that they would not publish it if they had any doubts about the veracity or origin of the document. He, however, refused to disclose the source of the information.