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What Price Justice ? 04/08/2003

What Price Justice? 

It will take long and painful years for the former Soviet republics to establish rule of law and dispense justice on the level of Western civilized countries.  Many groups in those countries have taken the law into their hands and settle scores with their enemies and competitors outside the jurisdiction of the courts, and with the breakdown of the Soviet system the former law enforcement officers have become lawless operators. 

In many cases contract killing has become a routine way of settling scores.  Gangs that can challenge the state security apparatus are being employed by businessmen and politicians to buy protection or to compromise the competitor's protection. 

This state of affairs is very typical of Russia, where President Putin is trying to bring a semblance of order to enhance foreign investments. 

As we move further south, especially to the Caucasus region, the breakdown of the legal system is more rampant.  Georgia and Azerbaijan are in virtual chaos, with kidnappings and contract killings as daily occurrences.  Many foreign businessmen in Georgia have been abducted for ransom or are killed very often in view of powerless law enforcement agencies.  The President of the country himself, Eduard Shevardnadze has survived several dramatic attempts on his life. 

This legal chaos is endemic for all the countries emerging as independent republics, following the collapse of authoritarian Soviet system.  Some people even look back with nostalgia to the Soviet era, where law and order were at least predictable. 

Armenia is in the thick of things.  It will be naïve to assume that our homeland is immune to those social ills.  But still, compared to the entire region, there is more welcome stability there than in the neighboring countries. 

Yet Armenia has suffered a number of politically motivated contract killings, none of them have been solved.  The most dramatic massacre took place in the Parliament on October 27, three years ago, eliminating most powerful leaders in the country, including Prime Minister Vazken Sarksyan and Speaker of the Parliament Karen Demirjian. 

Although the perpetrators of the massacres have been arrested, their trial has been dragging for three years now and it has been degenerated into a political football.  That says a lot about the judicial system in Armenia. 

Now another crime comes to poison the political scene with the prospect of turning into another political football. 

Last December the head of Public TV, Dicran Naghalian, was assassinated by a professional killer.  This time around the law enforcement agencies have been able to apprehend the killer and the contractor, who, embarrassingly, happens to be the younger brother of the martyred Prime Minister Vazken Sarksyan.  The authorities have arrested Armen Sarksyan, based on the sufficient evidence that he had been the person behind this political murder. 

The party who can least afford this embarrassing arrest is none other than President Kocharian himself, who has to confront the traumatized and bereaved Sarksyan family.  He even made a public statement about his uneasiness in putting the brother of a slain hero behind bars. 

With the trial of October 27 assassins still looming on the horizon, many irresponsible people have been taking cheap shots at the President and accusing him as the man behind the plot.  The Sarksyan family has been pointing their fingers at the President, while hired guns from Yerevan to Los Angeles have been elaborating on that accusation, as if it were an established fact. 

Arresting Vazken Sarksyan's brother is certainly a political liability to the President and to the authorities in general.  The situation is further aggravated by the opposition who has encouraged Sarksyan's mother, Greta Sarksyan, to set up a sit in tent in front of the presidential palace, playing as prosecutor and judge and claiming her younger son's innocence. 

Where is the justice now?  It is a very pathetic situation.  A mother, who has already lost a heroic son, faces losing a younger one too.  But is that enough cause to set Armen Sarksyan free?  Does his brother's martyrdom buy immunity for him?  Is he above the law? 

The authorities have been walking on a tightrope.  On one hand they try to avoid any aggravation in an already tense situation, and on the other hand they have been entrusted by the people to enforce the laws. 

All the previous assassinations were not resolved for the very same reason that the trail may have led to people in a position of power, like the Armen Sarksyan case. 

The opposition has been playing a very dangerous game turning a political murder into a cause celebre, which will hamper the rule of law. 

Even before the trial the opposition has already absolved Armen Sarkysan and accuses the authorities as villains. 

In view of the forthcoming Parliamentary elections in May, it is very convenient for the opposition to use this arrest as a political card against the authorities. 

A weak government is in a bind.  If it proceeds with the prosecution, it may lose political points.  On the other hand, setting an alleged criminal free will turn the rule of law into a farce. 

If the evidence is so strong as to arrest a member of a powerful political family, then any self-respecting government must uphold the law.  It is time for Armenians to emerge from the medieval mindset and to uphold the law of the land above political games and clannish affiliations. 

The judiciary, in this case, should assert its independence, and proceed with the trial, no matter what the political price may be. 

The administration may suffer a political setback, but the law of the land will gain respectability. 

April 8, 2003
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