Babayan Refuses to Attend Trial As Prosecutors Read Indictment

STEPANEKERT (RFE/RL)–The arrested former commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh army–General Samvel Babayan–declared on Thursday that he will not attend his unfolding trial on murder charges in protest against the authorities’ refusal to transfer it to the jurisdiction of an Armenian court.

But the Karabakh Supreme Court which hears the criminal case against Babayan and 14 other defendants charged with plotting to murder the self-proclaimed republic’s president–Arkady Ghoukassian–ruled that the general will be forced to follow the proceedings even if he does not want to.

"I believe that the Supreme Court of Nagorno-Karabakh is not authorized to hear my case and therefore refuse to attend the court sessions," Babayan wrote in a statement read out to the judge by his defense counsel. Similar statemen’s were made by two other defendants. But they were all rejected by judge Suren Aleksanian.

Babayan and most of the other suspects accused of masterminding and carrying out the March 22 attempt on Ghoukassian’s life say they can not get a fair trial in Karabakh which is currently governed by their political foes. The judge and state prosecutors counter that the demand is legally baseless. Thursday’s court hearings were spent on the reading of a 170-page indictment–which claims that Babayan had ordered his most trusted men to kill the Karabakh so that he could return to power. The assassination bid is alleged to have been twice adjourned because of last-minute glitches. One of the two gunmen who shot at Ghoukassian’s limousine had been paid 2 million drams (about $4,000) by the ex-commander–according to prosecutor Vahram Avagian.

Babayan and his supporters say the cases is fabricated for political aims. His lawyer–Zhudeks Shakarian–argued on Tuesday that the trial can not uncover the truth about the armed assault in the absence of a key suspect–the general’s former chief bodyguard Sasun Aghajanian. The prosecution claims that he was the second person who opened fire on Ghoukassian.

Aghajanian was last month taken to a psychiatric clinic in Yerevan with serious mental problems. The indictment says that he was due to throw a hand grenade into Ghoukassian’s car after a hail of automatic gunfire but could not approach it because the Karabakh president’s wounded security guards shot back.

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