BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Immediately after a judge remanded former president Robert Kocharian to custody on charges of breaching Armenia’s Constitutional order in relation to the March 1, 2008 post-election showdown between protesters and police, during which eight civilians and two police officers were killed, a group of parliament members began circulating a petition urging the court to release Kocharian on his own recognizance.
Initially, the petition was signed by 41 members of parliament who were members of former president Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia, with Parliament Speaker Ara Babloyan and deputy speaker Arpine Hovhannisyan and Eduard Sharmazanov as the most prominent signatories to the document.
The petition was announced on the same day as Kocharian’s attorneys filed an appeal of the remand decision, which will be hear by a court in Yerevan on Thursday.
The final petition that was submitted to the court on Monday contained 46 signatures with three members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation bloc—Ruzan Arakelyan, Armenouhi Kiureghyan and Romik Manukyan—and one members of businessman Gagik Tsarukyan’s bloc co-signing the document. The ARF and the Tsarukyan bloc are part of the current government led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
(On Tuesday, a group of Artsakh Parliament members also submitted a similar petition to Armenia’s Prosecutor General’s office calling for Kocharian’s release. By contrast there are no ARF members’ signatures on that petition.)
The ARF members’ signatures on the petition follow an announcement by the ARF Supreme Council of Armenia, which on July 27, the day of the Kocharian ruling, said that the while the party welcomed efforts to establish rule of law and eliminate the climate of impunity, if found that charges against Kocharian and other members of the government at the time have concerned them because they “may be interpreted as political persecution.”
Armenia’s chief investigator Sasun Khachatryan told reporters last week that the Kocharian’s remand was necessary for the unimpeded continuation of the investigation, emphasizing that while Kocharian was not seen as a flight risk, but could influence the investigation by exerting pressure on others involved in the process.
Speaking to Azatutyun.am on Tuesday, Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tirgan Avinyan hinted that there may be consequences to the ARF’s and the Tsarukyan bloc’s decision to take part in the protest process. It should be noted that ARF Bureau member Spartak Seyranyan said on Monday that the party had not made an official decision to join the petition drive.
“It is their right and it is very important to emphasize the fact that the Special Investigation Service does not receive any instructions from the Executive branch. It acts independently, as does the Court of First Instance,” said Avinyan.
“The ARF, which is part of this government, should be well aware of the relations between the executive and the judicial branches,” said Avinyan saying the party’s statement after Kocharian’s remand “was unclear.”
“From day one we have said that the executive branch will not exert any pressure on the judiciary. No one calls the judge and tells him what to do. That’s unacceptable,” said Avinyan.
Arakelyan, one of the ARF signatories downplayed the petition’s implications on the ARF’s role in the government.
“This is a very normal political process,” Arakelyan told Azatutyun.am. “It does not contradict the fact that we are now part of the [governing] coalition and together with the current authorities are trying to… contribute to Armenia’s progress.”
“I think that this [stance on Kocharian] will not jeopardize the coalition because we do not undermine our agreement with the current authorities in any way,” added Arakeylyan.
(I will reserve comment on the maelstrom that the ARF’s announcement and its members’ signatures have created on social media. I will address the post-Velvet Revolution social media frenzy in the future).
Supposing that the new government is indeed respecting the concept of separation of powers—a novelty in Armenia given past instances of the executive branch’s interference in judicial matters—however, the legislative branch seems to have not gotten the memo.
There’s a larger question during this dustup: how will a petition by members of parliament impact the court’s ruling? And, why should Kocharian be set free from pre-trial incarceration? Neither the petition nor statements protesting the remand have clarified that. Only Kocharian’s attorneys have made a case, which will be heard in court on August 7.
Similarly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s comments last week, calling the arrests “political” is not only an infringement in Armenia’s domestic affairs, but also shows a similar disregard for the separation of powers—a concept that clearly is not adhered to in Russia.
For the sake of advancing the process of reforms and strengthening democratic institutions in Armenia, what all political forces, be they in the government or not, must aspire to preserve the separation of powers in Armenia to ensure that democracy will prevail regardless of who is charged and what the charges are.