Crowning Conviction: Armenian court legitimizes Pashinyan’s cause

By convicting Nikol Pashinyan of a major crime against the state, the Court of Armenia has helped turn a provocateur into a martyr, whose stature has grown inordinately greater than his significance.

If the administration of President Serzh Sargsyan wanted to quiet Pashinyan – as Tuesday’s verdict would surely indicate – it should have simply released him last July when he turned himself into authorities after more than a year on the lam in hiding against charges of instigating disorder for which he now faces seven years in lockup. Indeed, ignoring Pashinyan would have been far more punishing.

Instead, the attention brought by the state’s pursuit, prosecution and detention has conferred on Pashinyan a status rarely enjoyed by footmen to whom the mantle of leadership is not passed, but dropped.

With the coronation of the court conviction, Pashinyan’s rank as Enemy of the State empowers the diminutive propagandist with a far mightier sword than his mere rank as editor of a radical party tabloid could have afforded.

He will appeal the decision, prolonging his influence. He will lose, enforcing claims of persecution. He will take his case to the European Court of Human Rights, extending the needless saga.

We agree with his supporters that Pashinyan is innocent. But our reasons differ.

Pashinyan is no more responsible for the chaos of March 1, 2008, than are cheerleaders at fault when the home team loses. On that notorious day, Pashinyan, like the mass that swept him on its shoulders, had no plan, no apparent design on how to disrupt a nation.

On March 1, 2008, Nikol Pashinyan was guilty of possessing a deadly bullhorn. And perhaps guilty of impersonating a revolutionary.

And he carried the burden of having stood on the same stage with those who bear more blame for events that put him in his place now. Heroics by association. Defacto guilt. Even Levon Ter-Petrosyan has not been charged (nor should he). And tycoon Khachatur Sukiasyan has, not without some financial suffering, cut an apparently sweet deal for which he not only has been amnestied, but has been allowed to leave the country. (A related aside: Can someone explain why opposition supporter Sukiasyan is allowed to go abroad for medical treatment, while war hero oppositionist Sasun Mikealyan, imprisoned on similar charges, can hardly get necessary required prison attention for deteriorating health?)

As those who witnessed “Bloody Saturday” know, blame for civil disorder, for inciting riots, for creating unrest, etc. -- indeed blame for deaths and injuries -- lays with none who have or will face prosecution. When Robert Kocharyan’s henchmen stormed Freedom Square that early morning the attack, literally, awoke a slumbering mass for whom Pashinyan, though surely a charging force, was hardly in charge.

Now, he is the face of Armenia’s political discontent, emboldened, even, to run for parliament in a contest last week that illustrated just how anemic the withered opposition has become.

Two years ago Pashinyan’s newspaper reported (in exaggeration) that 40,000 protesters or more at a time marched in support of the opposition movement. In contesting Sargsyan’s presidential win, Pashinyan’s team claimed they got more than 50 percent of the votes cast by 1,632,666.

But when he ran for MP January 10, Pashinyan got just 5,053 votes. One-tenth of registered voters favored him and only one-in-four turned out to vote at all (though figures have been contested following incidents of fraud).

If Ter-Petrosyan is the man of integrity a movement should deserve, he will be Pashinyan’s most frequent visitor for the duration of his sentence. Pashinyan did not enjoy the excuse of “house arrest” that insulated and isolated Ter-Petrosyan from harm on March 1, 2008, or from possible conviction now. Now, though, Pashinyan faces real imprisonment and none should envy him, even while glory puts a blush on his conviction.

Nikol Pashinyan is innocent of the accused crimes. Authorities would favor their own cause by leaving him that way.