Convicted Hardliner Condemns Authorities’ ‘Violence’

By Ruzanna Stepanian

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
Aug 13 2007

A prominent Karabakh war veteran convicted by a Yerevan court last
week has urged the authorities "to stop ruling over the country
with violence."

Zhirayr Sefilian, who was acquitted by the lower court of the charge
of calling for a violent overthrow of government but found guilty of a
lesser charge of illegal arms possession, said in an RFE/RL interview
on Monday that what happened to him and his two friends during the past
eight months was a case of flagrant violence used by the authorities.

"It is a violence to jail an innocent person who did not commit any
crime. I want to remind that violence begets violence. The sooner they
stop this violence, the better it will be for them," said Sefilian,
who was sentenced to 18-month imprisonment for possessing a gun
presented to him as a gift by Karabakh’s former defense minister
Samvel Babayan in 1998.

Sefilian’s lawyer has already appealed the verdict at a higher court.

Sefilian, who has already spent eight months in pre-trial detention,
believes the case will be solved in his favor. And even if the appeals
court upholds the verdict, Sefilian believes he has all grounds to
be released on parole having served a third of his sentence.

Sefilian, a Lebanese citizen, thinks that what happened to him and his
fellow combatants Vartan Malkhasian and Vahan Aroyan was a retribution
for their firm stand on the Karabakh issue opposing any territorial
concessions to Azerbaijan and also for their contacts with Armenia’s
opposition forces.

Vartan Malkhasian, a senior member of Sefilian’s hard-line pressure
group called the Alliance of Armenian Volunteers, was found guilty
on the sole charge of calling for a violent overthrow of government
and was sentenced to two years in prison.

The third defendant in the case, Vahan Aroyan, who had been charged
only with illegal arms possession, was found guilty and sentenced to
18-month imprisonment.

Prosecutors based the criminal case against Sefilian and Malkhasian
mainly on the two men’s speeches at the December 2, 2006 founding
congress of their organization. Sefilian and Malkhasian were arrested
soon after that. Aroyan was arrested later after National Security
Service (NSS) investigators found an arms cache hidden in his village
house in southern Armenia.

The NSS also claimed Sefilian and Malkhasian planned to mount an armed
uprising against the government ahead of the parliamentary elections
in May.

Both protested their innocence all along and denounced the case as
politically motivated.

Sefilian primarily addresses his critical remarks to President Robert
Kocharian whom he accuses of personally ordering their imprisonment.

He claims they have repeatedly received warnings in connection with
their activities.

"But they saw it was impossible and had to do something. But for
those speeches, they would have anyway made up something to have us
arrested in December," Sefilian told RFE/RL.

Sefilian, who refuses to accept the results of the 2003 presidential
election that reelected Robert Kocharian Armenia’s president, claims
the authorities had on many occasions tried to "bribe" him by offering
various privileges.

"But I said it’s impossible to achieve a positive result in this
system. Either my service will be pointless, or I will become corrupt
myself," Sefilian said.

Now Sefilian believes they will still remain a factor in the upcoming
presidential election despite the punishment imposed on them, which
many observers claim was used to eliminate the nationalist activists
from politics.

"For people like us it is not a punishment. It is a struggle. No one
can tell us to keep silent for five months," Sefilian said. "Do not
let the people have the impression that we are weak because we are
imprisoned. They [the authorities] have committed such crimes that
they don’t know how to get away with them now."