A dark cloud looms over Armenia

Sunday 16th September 2018

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Dr Marcus Papadopoulos

Whilst the eyes of the world are on events in Syria and the ever-increasing tension between Russia and the West, a worrying development is occurring in Armenia.

With a population of nearly three million, and with one of the oldest civilizations in history, Armenia, under the leadership of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, has embarked on a dark pathway of political persecution. Because the former president of the country, Robert Kocharyan, who provided a considerable amount of economic stability to the lives of ordinary Armenians during his tenure in office, and who also maintained close relations with Russia, which is crucial to safeguarding the national security of Armenia from Turkey and Azerbaijan, historic foes of the Armenian people, has been charged with “overthrowing constitutional order”, something that many commentators, both at home and abroad, suspect is politically-motivated and has been orchestrated by Mr Pashinyan.

The charges against Mr Kocharyan relate to protests held in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, in 2008, following the Armenian presidential election, in which Serzh Sargsyan, the incumbent prime minister, emerged as the winner with a comfortable majority. Many analysts at the time said that the protests, which quickly became violent and had to be stopped by Mr Kocharyan authorizing the police to use force, bore all of the hallmarks of a Western-attempted coup to install a pro-Western president in Armenia. Indeed, not only were the protests strikingly similar to Western-backed protests in Georgia, in 2003, and Ukraine, in 2004 and 2005, but would also come to resemble the infamous Maidan protests in the latter country, from 2013 to 2014. What is very telling is that Mr Pashinyan was one of the protesters in 2008. Furthermore, and rather interestingly, since coming to power this year, Mr Pashinyan has shown signs that he may attempt to reduce Armenia’s closeness with Russia, a fraternal country, and realign the country with the West.

This July, Mr Kocharyan was arrested, charged and placed in pre-trial detention for two months. Commenting on the case, the ex-president’s lawyer, Aram Orbelyan, said that Mr Pashinyan looks like “a retrograde, authoritarian post-Soviet head of government, not a new type of democratic leader”, and he added that the detention of Mr Kocharyan was at odds with “Western democratic and European values”. Some of Mr Kocharyan’s supporters are appealing to the European Union to condemn the ex-president’s treatment. However, it is unlikely that Brussels will be forthcoming in support, given longstanding EU aspirations for Armenia to turn politically and economically to the European bloc.

Prior to Mr Kocharyan’s arrest, Anahit Chilingaryan, a Yerevan-based research assistant at Human Rights Watch, contended that: “As a new government sets the agenda in Yerevan, it is high time to consider the excessive use of pre-trial detention in politically sensitive trials…One step prosecutors and judges can take right away is to stop the blanket use of pre-trial custody…They will also need to ensure that charges are based on sound evidence and are not excessive, intended to silence others, or to settle scores with people whose messages the authorities don’t agree with…Resolving the issue of politically motivated prosecutions will be challenging, but very important to restore faith in Armenia’s criminal justice.”

Mr Kocharyan’s treatment has not gone unnoticed in Moscow. In what was considered to constitute a sign of the Kremlin’s support to the embattled ex-president, Vladimir Putin telephoned him on his birthday this August and congratulated him. Russia is well aware of Mr Pashinyan’s Western outlook and is concerned that, over time, he may try and remove Armenia from the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, and may even terminate a military agreement which Yerevan has with Moscow which permits the Russian Army to house its 102 Military Base in Armenia’s second city of Gyumri.

A dark cloud is looming over Armenia, which is all the sadder because the country gave the world a great civilisation and the arrest of Mr Kocharyan is at odds with the Armenian people’s strong sense of justice. However, Mr Pashinyan can put an end to this disconcerting case by speaking out against the ex-president’s treatment. Alas, Mr Pashinyan’s standing in the eyes of the Armenian people is now on trial.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Politics First)

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