Saturday, November 22, 2003

The following story reminds me of how Samuel Babayan, who was accused of allegedly organizing the assassination on the President and given 15 years, though there was no evidence that in an international court would have convicted him.

It seems that anyone that stands up against the Kocharian clan (both Samuel and the Sarkisyan’s would fall under this category), is doomed to having their day is court with a just outcome. At least this seems to be the message Kocharian is trying to send out to scare people so they wont even think about standing up against him in the future.

One thing I will say is that it would have been better if they handed down this verdict after they beg to the Diaspora for money and not before. Remember, Robert Kocharian is the not only the president of Armenia, but also the president of the All-Armenia Fund, the fund that is going to be asking you to give money on November 27th.

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home
By John Hughes, Editor, 21 November 2003

I don't want to turn the idea into a theme, but the justice system in Armenia just keeps serving up material for comment for which I don't want to appear ungrateful. So . . .

Who is served by the verdict and sentencing in the Tigran Naghdalyan murder case?

A synopsis of the outcome is this:

One man, John Harutyunyan, told the court that he killed Naghdalyan for money. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Another man, Armen Sargsyan, was accused, but not proven in court, of putting up the money to have Naghdalyan killed. He, too, got 15 years.

It seems that in Armenia confessed murder carries the same sentence as unproven conspiracy. Is it just me, or is there something not right about that?

I'm not equipped for defending Sargsyan, nor is it beyond belief that a family as powerful as his could have anybody in this country whacked if they so desired. But a few things in this high-profile case – one that again put the Justice System itself on trial - don't make sense.

First, sources in the General Prosecutor's Office have said privately that, originally, the state intended to charge Armen Sargsyan's brother, Aram, in connection with the murder. In fact, when one of the defendants was being interrogated after his arrest, the investigators kept referring to his relationship to "Aram", not Armen. There is reason to believe that their line of questioning was not simply a slip of the tongue.

Aram Sargsyan is a leader of Republic party, a major oppositional force, and initially stood against Robert Kocharyan in the last presidential election. (Sargsyan withdrew from the race early, throwing his support to oppositional candidate Stepan Demirchyan.)

Apparently unable to draw up a decent case against Aram Sargsyan, prosecution went after the brother, Armen, and arrested him on March 15, 10 days after the presidential elections runoff.

The State accused Armen Sargsyan of offering $75,000 to have Naghdalyan killed, for reasons, prosecution said, that included TV journalist Naghdalyan having "mocked" Sargsyan's dead hero brother, former Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan (a victim of the October 27, 1999 parliament assassinations).

Over a three-month trial, not one of six witnesses (the defense was not allowed to call additional witnesses) named Sargsyan as a conspirator to the murder. Neither, in fact, did the 12 other defendants, some of whom went out of their way to emphasize that Sargsyan, specifically, did not order the killings.

To be fair: If I were on that witness stand, knowing what even I know about the influence of the Sargsyan family in this country, I'd think considerably about my future health before saying anything ill toward one of its members. Still:

Twelve men who could have rolled for the prosecution and made sentencing easier for themselves by fingering Sargsyan, did not.

But forget that, and consider this:

If the court was willing to believe John Harutyunyan when he said that he killed Tigran Naghdalyan, why was it not willing to believe others who said Sargsyan had nothing to do with it? Was their testimony less reputable than that of a man who flatly admitted killing a stranger for money?

The answer may be found in an interview given by the judge (Armenia does not use a jury system) to a Yerevan newspaper in explaining his verdict. He said some judgely things about evaluation of proof. (What proof?, becomes a reasonable question here.) But one quote may say more:

"My inner conviction is completely reflected in the verdict," said Judge Saribek Amaryan.

Some societies operate according to "reasonable doubt". For example if three months of testimony fails to produce one person who said Armen Sargsyan was the culprit, that just might raise reasonable doubt about his guilt.

Here, apparently, inner conviction is a more powerful tool of justice. For all I know, Armen Sargsyan may be guilty as sin. It's a shame this society can't feel better about its justice system by having that proven, rather than relying on instinct. Or something worse.


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