Jailed Politician Claims Government Conspiracy

Human rights campaigners believe corruption charges against Ashot Bleyan were trumped up by the authorities

Jailed Politician Claims Government Conspiracy

Human rights campaigners believe corruption charges against Ashot Bleyan were trumped up by the authorities

A controversial Armenian politician, once branded a traitor for his attempts to secure peace in Nagorny Karabakh, has been jailed for seven years on charges of corruption and embezzlement.

However, Ashot Bleyan's supporters claim the unusually heavy sentence is politically motivated and the former education minister's only "crime" was his fierce opposition to Robert Kocharian's government.

Even rival politicians were stunned by the sentence. Vaan Oganesian, a leader of the Dashnaktsutiun party, commented, "Bleyan is our political adversary and we believe that he should be jailed for his crimes but seven years is an incredibly long time."

In a separate trial at the end of last year, former interior ministry officer Vaan Arutyunian was given a similar jail term after being found guilty of masterminding a series of hire killings.

Ashot Bleyan is no stranger to political controversy. In the dusk of the Soviet era, he took an active part in the Karabakh freedom movement, employing two members of the notorious Karabakh Committee at his Mkhitar Sebastatsi education centre.

He weathered his first political storm in 1993, three years after being elected to Armenia's Supreme Council. Appalled by the bloody fighting in Nagorny Karabakh, the Armenian deputy set off on a peace mission to Baku, hoping to strike a secret deal with the Azerbaijani government.

Although many people now believe the move was actually sanctioned by the then president, Levon Ter-Petrosian, Bleyan was promptly dubbed a national traitor and became one of the most hated figures on the Armenian political scene.

Bleyan was appointed Minister for Education in 1995. However, his unorthodox view of the Soviet-style education system soon aroused widespread opposition from teachers and parents who bitterly resisted his attempts to introduce new teaching methods and modern text-books.

In the aftermath of the scandal, Bleyan abandoned the political limelight and went on to establish his own opposition party, Novy Put (New Way). Then, in 1998, President Ter-Petrosian was forced to resign and Bleyan stepped forward as one of 12 candidates in the Armenian presidential elections.

The former minister openly described this move as a public protest against Robert Kocharian's candidacy. Supported by the powerful defence minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, Kocharian was by far the strongest contender - even though he had not lived in Armenia for the past 10 years, a condition required by the Armenian constitution.

Bleyan later commented, "The only way to stop this gross violation of the law was to register myself as a candidate for the presidency - although I was under no illusions as to what the outcome would be."

Bleyan promptly appealed to the Constitutional Court to review the issue but judges failed to reach a decision until after Kocharian's election victory. They then ruled that the new president's candidacy had been legal.

In the following May, police burst into the school classroom

Karabakh, Armenia
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