YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—A court in Yerevan held the first preliminary hearing in the trial of Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharian and three other former senior officials prosecuted in connection with the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
The hearing on Monday focused on defense lawyers’ fresh demands for Kocharian’s release from custody pending the outcome of the trial. The ex-president was therefore the only defendant present in the courtroom.
The other defendants are the former presidential chief of staff Armen Gevorgian and retired army Generals Seyran Ohanyan and Yuri Khachaturov. Unlike Kocharian, they are not held in detention.
Kocharian looked relaxed and smiled when he spoke with his lawyers during a break in the court session. At one point he also waved to two dozen supporters who filled the courtroom and chanted “President!”
They afterwards bitterly argued with a man apparently critical of Kocharian who tried to enter the courtroom. Police officers intervened to stop the altercation from degenerating into violence.
Earlier in the day, Kocharian supporters were angered outside the courtroom by Vardgez Gaspari, a prominent activist who held up a poster saying “Robik murderer.” One of them ripped up the poster while another hit Gaspari with a bottle.
Police officers removed participants of the incident from the building moments later. Gaspari accused them of inactivity.
Kocharian, 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. Kocharian says that they are part of a political “vendetta” waged by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Kocharian’s younger son Levon echoed that claim when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service in the courtroom. “I believe that the accusations are personal revenge,” he said. “There are many facts which prove what my father says, what our lawyers say and what we agree with.”
Pashinyan was one of the main opposition speakers during the 2008 protests. He subsequently spent about two years in prison for organizing what the former Armenian authorities characterized as “mass disturbances.” Pashinyan has denied interfering in the investigation, which took a new turn after last year’s “velvet revolution” in the country.
Eight protesters and two police servicemen were killed as security forces quelled the post-election protests on March 1-2, 2008. Kocharian 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, Kocharian 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 Kocharian handed over power to Serzh Sarkisian in April 2008.
Both Kocharian and Gevorgyan deny the corruption accusations as well.