Why The Prosecution Of Armenia’s Former President Hurts US Interests

REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Theodore Karasik Security Analyst
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When the Armenian Special Investigative Service (SIS) ordered the arrest of former President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan (1998–2008) of Armenia on July 26, 2018, the move immediately sparked attention as to what the new Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was trying to achieve.

The vindictive arrest also raises questions about the integrity of Armenia’s rule of law and therefore jeopardizes the country’s potential for Western integration and economic future.

Why should America care about Armenia under Pashinyan and this episode with Kocharyan? Because theU.S. is interested in stability and peace in the Caucasus, and full observation of the rule of law in Armenia.

Moreover, the United States traditionally supports human rights, especially in cases where violations of human rights and legal norms can be systemically destructive for a country, which is the case of the anti-Kocharyan persecution. A ten-year political feud between the wings of the Armenian nationalist movement can weaken a country into making desperate decisions, splitting the body politic further.

Since the end of his presidency in 2008, Kocharyan has remained a rival within the Armenian political spectrum for the country’s top slot. The Pashinyan’s government accusation of Kocharyan allegedly overthrowing the constitutional order during the post-2008 election riots is the centerpiece of this political drama.

This story involves other Armenian notables from the 2008 period, namely Armenia’s first president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan (1991–1998) and his opponent at the time (then Prime Minister) Serzh Sargsyan, Kocharyan’s protege. Ter-Petrosyan’s allegations of election rigging led to mass demonstrations in Yerevan’s Freedom Square. Protesters began to burn anything in sight and fired upon the police, killing two officers.

In response, the police opened fire with eight killed and dozens wounded. Importantly, the Armenian Army, under then-president Korcharyan’s orders, did not participate in the confrontation as the military only guarded government buildings and warehouses. With President Kocharyan’s support, Serzh Sargsyan became the third President of Armenia.

Kocharyan’s enemies seek to use this tragic episode against him for revenge.

Importantly, Pashinyan, who became Prime Minister as a result of the “velvet revolution’ earlier this year, has been pushing for an investigation of the 2008 events for the past decade. The reason? Pashinyan served as his confidant and aide for many years.

Following the 2008 election, he went into hiding for almost 15 months to evade charges of “organizing mass riots,” later serving jail time for almost two years.

Following the August 13 Armenian Court of Appeals ruling that his detention unlawful, Kocharyan was released. The Court decision came days after forty-six MPs signed a petition calling for the Prosecutor General’s Office to release the former president on bail.

Nevertheless, SIS appealed to the Court of Cassation, seeking pre-trial imprisonment and a criminal sentence of up to 15 years which was subsequently turned down, for now.

With Korcharyan’s arrest and subsequent release by the Appeals Court, modern Armenia finds itself at an inflection point. It must choose whether law and order or personal vendettas will ultimately prevail.

The questionable accusations of constitutional violations from 2008 cover up a deep-set conflict between Pashinyan and Kocharyan. Some may say that Pashinyan’s move is characteristic of the third-world tin-pot dictatorships and reflects “victor’s justice.” Chatham HouseHuman Rights Watch and other groups criticized the handling of the arrest and the accusations against President Kocharyan.

Clearly, if Armenia is serious about pursuing its Western-oriented policy, including more European integration, Yerevan — the capitol — needs to abide by international legal and human rights norms, including respecting Council of Europe decisions 10 years ago, which approved the outcome of the 2008 elections. This international legal opinion is important for Armenia under Pashinyan today.

Pashinyan’s personal vendetta against Armenia’s second president risks irreversibly damaging the brittle and weak rule of law in Armenia. Continuing it will only hurt him – and Armenia—in the long run.

Dr. Theodore Karasik is a non-resident senior fellow at the Lexington Institute and a national security expert specializing in Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East. He also worked for the RAND Corporation.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.