Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 90

Armenia’s General Prosecutor’s Office has released Vano Siradeghian, the country’s former strongman, from investigative detention. Siradeghian had returned to Yerevan from abroad on May 3 and was instantly arrested, in violation of his immunity as a parliamentary candidate and without the required notification to the Central Electoral Commission. He was released on May 7 on bail on his own recognizance. Siradeghian retains the post of chairman of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (APNM) and will presumably lead the former ruling party’s campaign for the May 30 parliamentary elections.

Siradeghian’s release was met with outrage by those who consider themselves victims of the alleged crimes imputed to Siradeghian by the current authorities. The charges stem from his past actions as internal affairs minister, mayor of Yerevan and business godfather of the APNM until 1997-98. A rally in central Yerevan, protesting the release, called for prompt prosecution of Siradeghian and other senior APNM officials, who are believed to be his accomplices. Rally speakers and participants included Dashnak politicians persecuted in 1995-98 and the relatives of several government officials who were assassinated in recent years in as yet unexplained circumstances. The authorities accuse Siradeghian of having organized several murders and attempted murders. He rejects the charges (Noyan-Tapan, May 7-8).

Whichever way the authorities handle it, the case may leave a blot on the electoral campaign. While Siradeghian’s arrest was unlawful, his role as electoral standard-bearer for the APNM also reflects poorly on both the party and the political system, particularly considering Siradeghian’s record in rigging past elections and publicly boasting about his performance (see the Monitor, January 27-28, February 1, May 4). Should he win a parliamentary seat, Siradeghian would gain immunity from prosecution, unless the parliament votes anew–as it did in January of this year–to lift that privilege.