Ter Petrosyan Breaks Silence; Blasts Authorities Over Siradeghian Indictment

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan broke his one-year silence to condemn the present authorities late Tuesday over murder charges leveled against his long-time interior minister.

In a statement distributed to the press–Ter-Petrosyan welcomed the Armenian parliament’s refusal to allow the prosecution and arrest of Vano Siradeghian who is also the chairman of the opposition Armenian National Movement. The ex-president who ruled Armenia from 1991 to 1998 said the indictment was not substantiated with sufficient evidence and has "disgraced" Armenia.

Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian charged on Monday that Siradeghian ordered murders of two police officers five years ago after they had failed to assassinate a Russian businessman of Armenian origin. The Moscow-based businessman–Serge Jilavian–and the former Ter-Petrosyan-led government and a hostile relationship.

"If our authorities wished to disgrace Armenia they can be congratulated: they have succeed in doing that," Ter-Petrosyan said. "The gravest accusations were based on the testimony of only one person. The prosecutor–the main actor of the disgrace–is either absolutely illiterate or an obedient servant."

Siradeghian has said that the main witness in the case–the arrested former commander of the Armenian interior troops–is "mentally sick." He has denied the charges saying that they are politically motivated.

"By rebuffing the prosecutor and thereby exposing his incompetence–parliament was up to the mark," Ter-Petrosyan said. The first president of independent Armenia was forced to step down in February 1998 by his key ministers led by Robert Kocharian–the current president. Ter-Petrosyan–known for his avoidance of the media–has since kept a low profile and not spoken out in public.

"It is now the people’s turn–because by using the testimony of one villain–this prosecutor can open a criminal case against any citizen," Ter-Petrosyan warned. It remained unclear–however–what action he called for.

The National Assembly on Tuesday fell short of the required majority of votes to give a green light to the arrest of the former interior minister. The lack of unanimity in the majority Yerkrapah faction was apparently responsible for the outcome of the voting. Yerkrapah is headed by the powerful Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and has until now been loyal to Kocharian.

Siradeghian was interior minister from 1992 to 1996–a period characterized by a pervasive power and influence of the police in Armenia. He effectively admitted last December that the government resorted to vote rigging in September 1996 to secure a second five-year term for Ter-Petrosyan. He said Ter-Petrosyan then fell into a "three-month depression."

He told RFE/RL on January 16 that his relations with the ex-president remain "friendly."

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