Tuesday, 22 October

The Authorities Seize an Opportunity

Vahe Sarukhanyan
Edik Baghdasaryan

A few simple moves

Jirair Sefilyan's friends firmly believe that he has been isolated because of the parliamentary elections, since he has numerous followers and could have become a pivot for uniting the opposition. But even if it is true that the authorities arrested Sefilyan out of fear, subsequent events have done little to suggest the opposition forces are able to rally around any idea at all—not even Sefilyan's arrest could unite them.

An analysis of the events reveals that Jirair Sefilyan's arrest followed a clear scenario, though officers from the National Security Service (NSS) were only able to calculate a few simple moves.

Thus, one of Sefilyan's companions-in-arms, resident of thevillageofLusaratin the Ararat Marz Vahan (Vano) Aroyan, was told by NSS officers of Jirair's imminent arrest. Vano telephoned Jirair and warned him. Jirair's followers believe that this was exactly what the NSS wanted because afterwards NSS officers were to “visit” Vano formally, utilizing the fact of the telephone call.

Nineteen days after Jirair's detention, the NSS arrested Vano Aroyan in connection with the Sefilyan-Malkhasyan case and “discovered” in his house a large quantity of ammunition (the NSS planned to present disarming Aroyan as evidence of its effectiveness). According to the NSS, the ammunition found in Vano's home had allegedly been accumulated in order for Sefilyan and his organization to carry out their plans. But the NSS already knew about Vano's weapons since it knew Vano himself very well.

“Vano had close relations with many officers from the NSS. Being a resident of the border zone, he had free access to the frontier posts. Frontier guards often asked him for help. I know, and it was even shown on TV, that he took part in some law-enforcement operations there. He also had many acquaintances in the police force,” Jirair Sefilyan said, maintaining that he did not know about Vano's weapons. Jirair's supporters insist that Aroyan has always had a soft spot in his heart for weapons and that the ammunition accumulated in his house during the war was used after the ceasefire by the frontier guards, and now the NSS is turning all this against Sefilyan.

And if the NSS maintains that it was not aware of the weapons accumulated in Vano's house, then the service should be dissolved by the president, everyone who lives in Lusarat knew about the weapons.

Jirair Sefilyan: “It's a politically ordered fabrication.”

Let us now turn to some of the responses Sefilyan gave to a group of MPs investigating the circumstances of his and Vardan Malkhasyan's imprisonment.

Presenting his biography, Sefilyan stated that after the birth of his first son in 1994 he went toLebanon. Meanwhile, it is known that the investigation into the Dro case was going on at the time (three people had fallen victims to terrorist attacks by the Dro group) and Sefilyan was among the suspects. The press reported then that Sefilyan managed to leaveArmeniaduring the investigation. This is an excerpt from an article published by Aravot Daily on March 29, 2006: “At that time we published materials from the Dro case attesting that Jirair Sefilyan was a member, if not the head, of the governing body of this terrorist group. At the time Mr. Sefilyan was a member of the ARF-Dashnaktsutyun (later expelled), and it is not known whether he was the last link in the chain or not, since during the preliminary investigation Mr. Sefilyan safely left Armenia for Lebanon and returned only after the regime change. The law enforcement officers have not attempted to question him on the case since then. Once we tried to ask some questions arising from the Dro materials but Mr. Sefilyan refused to answer saying that it was not the time yet to talk about these issues.”

Perhaps this precedent served the NSS investigative group and the court as the basis for detaining Sefilyan, which in turn has aroused his lawyer's anger. Lawyer Vahe Grigoryan considers the court's explanation that if set free Sefilyan may go into hiding to be nonsense.

Sefilyan doesn't mention in his biography that he was expelled from the ARF in 1999.

The NSS believes that some calls for regime change made at the December 2006 meeting of Union of Armenian Volunteers are in conflict with the law. “If the call for regime change is a crime, then it would be possible to prosecute at least half of the population of Armenian,” Jirair Sefilyan told the visiting parliament members in jail.

A call for a regime change is, of course, not a crime according to our legislation but public calls for changing the constitutional order of the Republic of Armenia by force and through armed struggle is a crime, and according to the NSS such calls were made at the meeting in question: “We have to do everything, employ all means to get rid of these disguised Turks who only bear Armenian names as soon as possible through armed struggle and uprising... One has to fight with them with their own methods – blood and fire on the enemy, with all methods and means. In short and to the point – the country is occupied by the enemy and the enemy is not at the front but inside, we have to liberate ourselves. By any means.” (Vardan Malkhasyan). “Let us not distinguish among means. I agree, let's not distinguish… We can explain things to the opposition, first, in word, and, if necessary, through threats and compulsion.” (Jirair Sefilyan)

These statements, according to NSS, are punishable in accordance with Article 301 of the Criminal Code of Armenia (“Public calls for seizing state power by force, changing the constitutional order of the Republic of Armenia by force are punished with a fine in the amount of 300 to 500 minimal salaries, or with arrest for the term of 2-3 months, or with imprisonment for the term of up to 3 years.”)

The NSS communicated to the press that at the time of the arrest Sefilyan had an illegal firearm. “The Makarov gun was an award that I received from the army command. As an officer, I have always carried a gun, since 1990. However, I have never shot at the ceiling, like others have, and my nickname is not ‘Jiro the Shooter'. Nor have I ever demonstrated that I carry a gun,” Sefilyan said. It is logical that a person who has such a rich military biography and is a reserve lieutenant colonel of the NKR Defense Army would have a personal firearm. And we would like to add that lawyer Vahe Grigoryan told Haykakan Zhamanak daily that Sefilyan himself informed the NSS officers that he had a gun when he was already sitting in the police care in handcuffs.

Jirair Sefilyan and his supporters are convinced that the whole story (twice turning down Sefilyan's applications for citizenship without any explanation, arrests of the activists, etc) is politically motivated. “Over the last five or six years I have been repeatedly called into the NSS. Every time the reason for the meeting was my public activity and oppositional views, as well as my connections with opposition leaders. The last time I was summoned was at the end of March 2006. I was threatened that if I didn't stop my ‘illegal' activities I would be deported from the country. The official reason was my radical approach to the Javakhk issue, but in the end the real reason turned out to be my speeches against the famous duo [Robert Kocharyan and Serge Sargsyan],” Sefilyan said.

He is convinced that the duo has reasons for neutralizing him. “ My arrest was not motivated by either the Javakhk or the Nagorno-Karabagh issue. The primary reason is the upcoming elections. We fully realize that the situation that arises after these elections is essential, both for Javakhk and for Karabakh. Besides, the issue of improving the moral atmosphere in the country is especially urgent. Thus, we had decided and, to a certain extent, had gotten ready and we openly announced that we intended to stop the falsifying hand and to not allow them to intimidate the people. To that end, it was necessary to consolidate our efforts and we had started working on that. We did not have any expectations from these elections; we were coming together to serve the people. That was the main goal of our consolidation and the fresh phenomenon that frightened the authorities. Besides, we were communicating intensively with the opposition and had a certain influence on them. Our contacts were rather close with some of them and the authorities that trying to reproduce themselves could have sensed danger in this, too.”

It appears that the extremist calls and statements made at the December 2006 meeting of the Union of Armenian Volunteers gave the authorities who hoped to neutralize Sefilyan a fortuitous opportunity to act within the framework of the law and to conceal their real motives. Sefilyan himself has perhaps realized this, as his lawyer's words attest: “Jirair refuses to testify to the investigative body. He made one or two statements that his prosecution has political aims and that he is just being made to look like a criminal.”

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