Armenia’s Prosecutor General’s Office, announced on September 5, to the Armenian media, that the 2001 murder investigation of Poghos Poghosyan is being examined. Poghosyan, a member of the Dashnaktsutyun, was killed at Aragast cafe in Yerevan on September 25, 2001 by the bodyguards of then President of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan.
This new revelation came to light as Stephen Newton, a witness to Poghosyan’s murder 18 years ago, returned to Armenia, and granted interviews to various Armenian media outlets to shed light on the murder and to re-submit his testimony describing the crime to the Armenian government.
Shortly after midnight on September 25, eyewitnesses reported seeing a presidential bodyguard ask 43-year-old Poghosyan to step into the cafe restroom with him. Several other presidential bodyguards and plainclothes security personnel then rushed into the restroom behind Poghosyan and the bodyguard shut the door. Minutes later an ambulance paramedic pronounced Poghosyan dead.
A few minutes earlier, President Kocharyan and his guest, singer Charles Aznavour, had left the cafe; as they left, Poghosyan had said “Privet, Robik!” (Hi there, Robik) to President Kocharyan and according to Newton “he [Khocharyan] took offense to that.”
The next day, President Kocharyan suspended two bodyguards and the Procurator General’s office launched a murder inquiry. After a two-month investigation, the General Procuracy charged presidential bodyguard Aghamal Harutiunyan, also known as Kuku, with involuntary manslaughter. According to the indictment, after an altercation and brawl with Harutiunyan, Poghosyan “fell over on his back, and hit his head against the ceramic restroom floor, which caused him a serious cranial-brain injury, from which he died.”
Research conducted by Human Rights Watch Erevan, in the days immediately following Tamazian’s announcement strongly indicated that Poghosyan was beaten and kicked to death by a group of security personnel. Forensic experts examining Poghosyan’s body also concluded that he had been beaten up badly.
In his briefing to journalists, then Procurator General Aram Tamazyan insisted that Harutiunyan had not intended to kill. If he had, Tamazyan reasoned, he would have shot Poghosyan with his pistol. According to Tamazyan, although he acknowledged that Poghosyan’s corpse had injuries consistent with torture, Harutiunyan, in Tamazyan’s opinion, was only guilty of failing to foresee the consequences of his actions, and of carelessness.
Even though the maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is three years of imprisonment, Harutiunyan was only sentenced with a year of probation. No one else was charged.
According to Newton, who was a guest lecturer at Armenia’s School of Governance through EU’s TACIS program in 2001, he was at the cafe with his wife and artist friends with clear sight of the restroom and recalls two bodyguards initiated a confrontation with Poghosyan. “The bodyguards pushed them [Poghosyan and his companion] into the men’s room. My wife then said: they will be killed. I did not believe what I heard and said: “No, not while I’m here,” I rushed and went inside the restroom. The one who was called Kuku was beating one man with the butt of a gun. I pushed him away…Pogos Poghosyan, was lying on the floor, he was almost dead, his head was swollen. I shouted for help. The bodyguards did not know who I was. I suppose they thought that I was an ambassador because I was wearing a suit and a bow tie. My wife came to see what was happening to me. She was worried. I asked her to call an ambulance. Doctors arrived very quickly, but by then, the man was already dead.”
After the event, the UK Ambassador at the time arranged for Newton to leave Armenia for Romania, since according to Newton, the Ambassador feared for Newton’s life.
At the UK embassy in Romania, Newton transcribed his testimony of the event. Mnatsakan Martirosyan, the presiding judge of the trial rejected the written testimony, claiming it could not be accepted because it was in English. After the revolution, Newton sent a letter to Pashinyan but hasn’t received a response. Newton believes Kocharyan ordered the attack against Poghosyan and expressed a displeasure that a President can be allowed to “get away with crimes just by having an immunity,” which is impossible in other countries. He hopes that justice will finally be served.