The heads of Armenia’s National Security Service and the Special Investigative Service confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio recording of a telephone conversation, in which they are discussing the criminal probe of former high-ranking officials in connection to the March 1, 2008 events. The recording was immediately condemned by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan who called its release “treason” and said that his security team was being wiretapped.
The recording which was posted on YouTube quickly went viral in Armenian social media circles and was published by several media outlets. It details multiple phone conversation between NSS head Artur Vanetsyan and SIS head Sasun Khachatryan discussing the initial questioning of former president Robert Kocharian, who was charged on July 26 for breaching Armenia’s constitutional order in connection with the post-election protests on March 1, 2008 when 10 people were killed during a standoff between protesters and security forces. Kocharian was remanded into custody on July 27 and was released on August 13 after an appeals court reversed a decision by a lower court.
On the same day that Kocharian was charged, the SIS also questioned then deputy defense minister and chief of staff of the armed forces Yuri Khachaturov, who is currently the secretary-general of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization—the CSTO. He was charged with the same offense as Kocharian but was set free on bail and allowed to travel back to Russia to resume his responsibilities at the CSTO.
The SIS also has filed the same charges against Armenia’s then defense minister Mikael Harutyunyan, who has fled Armenia. On Friday, Russian law enforcement authorities informed their Armenian counterparts that they had canceled an arrest warrant for Harutyunyan, claiming that he has been a Russian citizen since 2002.
The first of the telephone conversations revealed in the leaked recording is presumably taking place on July 26 when Vanetsyan, who at the time was in Geneva, is being updated by Khachatryan about Kocharian’s interrogation.
During that and the two subsequent conversations on the leaked recording, Vanetsyan is heard cautioning—often pleading to—Khachatryan to not arrest Khachaturov, saying that his position as CSTO secretary-general might politicize the case and anger Russia. Vanetsyan tells Khachatryan that while Pashinyan wants Khachaturov remanded, the SIS chief should come up with “other solutions” to this issue.
“My friend, I am begging you, please be very cautious with Khachaturov. Although the prime minister says to remand [him], the Russians are losing their minds,” Vanetsyan tells Khachatryan in the phone conversation and suggests that he possibly look at others such as “Seyran” referring to Armenia’s former defense minister Seyran Ohanyan, who at the time of the 2008 events was the defense minister of Artsakh. In response Khachatryan tells Vanetsyan “We are going to clamp down on Seyran too… He did some disgraceful things, my friend.” The SIS chief goes on to say that on the night of March 1, Ohanyan allegedly warned and threatened anyone who organized a gathering would “meet with the adequate response.”
In another instance, the two chiefs were discussing their petition for remanding Kocharian. Vanetsyan tells Khachatryan that the presiding judge had called him for advice and told him that he would review the case.
“I said [to the presiding judge], ‘study the basis of the case and call him. I don’t care whether you want it or not, you must rule for the arrest,’” Vanetsyan is heard telling Khachatryan.
The Leaked Recording
The recording, which was posted on YouTube, is time stamped to have been uploaded on the video sharing social media site on September 5 but went live on Tuesday, when all of the user comments were posted.
It is titled, “How Armenian Justice Really Works,” signaling that the source of the video could be an entity that does not want the March 1, 2008 probe to proceed and is opposed to the Pashinyan administration. The recording is also subtitled in English, albeit not proper English, and contains spelling of words commonly associated with Russia or Russian speakers. For example instead of using the letter “H” the letter “G” is used.
More Revelations about March 1, Kocharian
In a hastily organized press conference on Tuesday, Khachatryan and Vanetsyan confronted the leaked recording head on by confirming its authenticity. While they downplayed the national security implications of such a recording, they announced that a criminal investigation has been launched to identify the source of the recording.
They also took the opportunity to reveal more evidence in the March 1, 2008 investigation and Kocharian’s alleged illicit financial dealings.
Vanetsyan held up a document, which he claimed detailed an alleged $6 million bribe given to Kocharian in return for him having an ownership claim in the Congress Hotel, located near Yerevan’s City Hall.
However, it was Khachatryan’s revelation of documents, which he said contained details of the special army units firing at people and residential buildings during the March 1, 2008 unrest.
He cited the example of Tigran Abkaryan, one of the two police officers who were killed during the March 1, 2008 events, saying that the SIS has proof that Abkaryan was killed by he special forces deployed after martial law was announced. Abkaryan was in coma for 41 days. Khachatryan asserted on Tuesday that Abkaryan was killed to advance Kocharian’s claims that the army and security forces also suffered casualties during the standoff.
The SIS chief also alleged on Tuesday that during the 2008 events, the defense ministry distributed military uniforms to private security staff of oligarchs, so they would blend in with regular troops and could take action when necessary.
“Our investigation has already established that the army not only participated in the events of March 1-2, 2008, but also fired in the direction of people, apartments. That means, the army fully participated in these actions. Secondly, I want to disclose more details that I frankly did not want to do, but today there is an occasion for that and the public should know it. After the secret order when it was decided to gather servicemen from different military units in Yerevan, soldiers were in service at border posts without shifts, as a result a very dangerous situation was created, and you know that there was an [Azerbaijani commando] raid,” Khachatryan said.
“Within the framework of the criminal case it has already been established that in the period after February 23,  and until March 7-8,  oligarchs gave money to soldiers to protect them, their property, their political aspirations,” Khachatryan said, showing an original roster “with names and signatures of soldiers and their commanders and sums of payments that were made from [bank] accounts of oligarchs and senior officials.”