A Time of Reckoning

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At one Armenia-Diaspora convocation in Yerevan long ago, where more than 3,000 participants were attending, a dramatic incident took place. Prime Minister Vazken Sargsyan, who had just returned from the US, had announced his determination to eradicate corruption in Armenia. He was a larger-than-life figure with a booming voice commensurate with his physical presence. As he delivered his speech, he tried to reassure his diasporan audience that Armenia would establish more transparent laws to secure foreign investors. Then, he added, “Some officials in the highest levels of our government have been pleading to provide personal guarantees to foreign investors. There is no such thing as personal guarantees. We have to apply the laws rigorously.” And he looked at President Robert Kocharyan seated on the dais. At that moment, I saw Kocharyan visibly shrinking on his seat, since he had been running around and giving personal assurances to the investors.

At that moment, I felt that Kocharyan’s destiny was doomed.

Little did I know that the roles would be reversed when on October 27, 1999, the parliament massacre took place and Vazken Sargsyan and Speaker of Parliament Karen Demirchyan were among the first victims.

All along, people viewed the three powerful statesmen, namely Demirchyan, Sargsyan and Kocharyan, as a trio that worked in tandem.

The October massacre came to prove that they had been contenders for power and one had to eliminate the others to inherit that absolute power. The person emerged to be Robert Kocharyan.

The head of the terrorists, Nairi Hounanyan, summoned Kocharyan to the parliament to negotiate a deal for his surrender. Kocharyan reached the parliament and had a one-on-one discussion with Hounanyan. No one, to this day, has been aware of the content of that discussion. But since October 27, 1999, a cloud of suspicion has been hanging over Kocharyan’s head. A proper prosecution was not conducted but the fact that Kocharyan benefited from the outcome of the crime unofficially made him the main suspect. He did not allow the due process of law to take its course, which in a way, confirmed those suspicions.

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Last Friday, July 27, Kocharyan was arrested at the Yerevan District Court for another crime, one he allegedly had committed on March 1, 2008. Huge rallies had followed the February 2008 presidential election, contesting the result which had brought Serzh Sargsyan to power.

The transfer of power had not taken place yet and technically Kocharyan still called the shots. After long and persistent protests, Kocharyan ordered the army to clear out Freedom Square. In the ensuing melee, eight citizens and two policemen were killed. Then, Sargsyan ascended the throne, marching through the blood of those victims. The rallies had been organized by the former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, with Nikol Pashinyan at his side. People never forgot nor forgave Kocharyan for that crime.

Kocharyan is accused of “overthrowing the constitutional order” in the aftermath of the disputed presidential elections held in February 2008, which was alleged to have been won through vote rigging.

Since then, the opposition has refused to recognize the legality of Sargsyan’s election. And ever since, tension has been building up, which eventually resulted in the Velvet Revolution of last May.

Kocharyan’s lawyers insist that he enjoys immunity from prosecution by virtue of Article 140 of Armenia’s constitution. The article specifically states: “During the term of his/her tenure, and thereafter, the president of the Republic may not be prosecuted and subjected to liability for actions deriving from his or her status.”

Kocharyan himself has repeatedly defended the post-election crackdown, saying that it prevented a violent seizure of power by the opposition, led by Ter-Petrosian.

There is a sigh of relief in Armenia. People believe that finally the day of reckoning has arrived.

There is a confluence of legal channels and the public mood. People are so angry that they demand the prosecution and punishment of Kocharyan with the full weight of the law.

Of course, there are dissenting voices. Understandably, Serzh Sargsyan’s Republican Party was not happy with Kocharyan’s arrest and it has published a statement accusing the government of taking the action because of political motivations. The ARF (Dashnaktsutyun) leadership of Armenia has also issued a statement of protest.

The party had been the beneficiary of Kocharyan and Sargsyan’s largess. Kocharyan had released from jail the Dro plotters who had intended to overthrow Ter-Petrosian’s government. Later on, the party was revamped and joined Serzh Sargsyan’s coalition government only to jump ship and join the Velvet Revolution on the day Pashinyan was elected prime minister.

At this point, Kocharyan stands accused of crimes on March 1, 2008 but people have been demanding the government to unlock the secrets of the October massacre.

Kocharyan is also answerable for amassing his reported $4-billion fortune. Some people put the value of his family’s net worth at around $10 billion.

His accusers have been figuratively asking how he came from Karabakh with two shirts and now he is sitting on a huge pile of cash, when half of Armenia’s population is suffering in poverty or abandoning its homeland to find jobs elsewhere.

He has been the most arrogant and insensitive public official.

The Velvet Revolution brought not only justice and unity to Armenia but hope for recovering economically and reversing the emigration trend.

Citizens are aware of the threat of impending war and ironically they are asking the war to come today rather than tomorrow because there is such solidarity between the citizenry and the army. Of course, no one wishes for the disasters and ravages of war, but today, people in Armenia stand united to confront the enemy.

Although Pashinyan promised no vendetta against prior office holders when he started his revolution, the people are angry at Kocharyan, thinking he does not deserve mercy.

As due process of the law is applied, people will be vindicated and gratified as justice is served and a day of reckoning greeted.

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