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"I am applying to the Pope of Rome for the freedom of Soghomon, my friend"

From Mher Yenokyan, “Hetq” Reporter from Nubarashen Prison

To Francis I, the Pope of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff


Your Holiness, let me introduce myself in a couple of words; I was born in Yerevan in 1975 to a family of doctors.

I studied at Yerevan State Medical University until 1996, the year I was sentenced to death for a crime committed by another person. I continue to struggle for reparation of justice to this day.

During the past three years, three books of mine have been published, namely:“I am talking to You, Man”, “In a Parallel World” and “Toward Life-long Freedom”; I also do translations. In 2012, I was enrolled, as a correspondent student, in the Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University, Department of Criminal and Criminal Procedure Law in Yerevan. Apart from that, I received a job offer from the editor of Hetq.am online newspaper, and I now conduct interviews with different people in a distant mode, as well as publish my literary works and articles.

Supreme Pontiff, your recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the liturgy you offered was an impressive historical event. My great-grandfather on the mother’s side was a priest who was beheaded by a Turkish soldier right in the church in Western Armenia in 1915. May God grant peace to the souls of all the innocent victims!

I was touched beyond words when you visited the prisoners on the occasion of Holy Easter and washed their feet. I immediately recalled the words of Jesus on the Last Judgement from the New Testament, “When the Son of Man sits on the throne of his glory, he will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you, for I … was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison, and you visited me.”

Capital punishments were implemented via fusillading in Armenia until the year of 1991. After Armenia became a UN member, a moratorium was declared, yet death sentences continued to be read in courts and instead of execution by firing squad, death sentences would still be implemented by depriving the prisoners of pure air and meetings with their relatives and subjecting them to beating, starvation and torture. Dozens of the convicted were killed this way in newly-independent Armenia that had renounced capital punishment. We can only guess how many of them were innocent victims of judicial mistakes of the imperfect judicial system regulated by the Soviet spirit and laws inherited from the Soviet Union.

As far back as in the 13th century, in times when the Catholicos of Armenia was also considered the Sublime Judge, Mkhitar Gosh advised on abstaining from capital punishment in his “Datastanagirk” (“Code of Laws”), based upon the principles of Christianity. However, in the 21st  century already, it was Europe that imposed upon Armenia the obligation to abolish capital punishment as a precondition for joining the UN.  The Christian principle of humanity and love for mankind is what underlies this approach, as well as the most important circumstance that even the most ideal judicial systems are not insured against judicial errors. Via preserving a human’s life an opportunity is granted that the innocent possibly plead guilty might return to society one day.

Almost every day we witness the civilized world admitting their judicial mistakes, reopening various cases and acquitting the innocent. Yet in Armenia there hasn’t been such a precedent to this day, for the authorities to admit that yes, a death penalty was inflicted by a judicial mistake. A question arises here whether we have the most perfect judicial system here in Armenia. I am sure we don’t. There have been numerous instances when obviously innocent people appeared in prisons, while those under the patronage of the authorities remain in freedom or are granted amnesty by the President.

I have been claiming for 20 years that I didn’t commit the crime I was accused of. Plenty of evidence was brought forth, including the expertise conducted at the Independent Forensic Science Center in Europe several months ago, which proved that I was condemned to capital punishment in 1996 without any grounds, yet the Armenian authorities remain indifferent toward a human’s fate.

However, it is not about myself that I would like to talk in this open letter of mine; I simply thought it necessary to describe the existing reality around the issue. 

Soghomon Kocharyan is a son of the Christian Armenian nation who was unrighteously condemned to capital punishment 21 years ago. I met him in prison, and, like many others, the more I familiarized myself with his biography, the clearer it became to me that he was a worthy son of the Armenian nation. Having suffered an extremely cruel punishment in inhumane conditions and with no way out to reach justice, both of us had to flee from prison; no harm was inflicted on anyone during both of our prison breaks. We spent a total of about a month in freedom and we never resorted to any crime, even in the most extreme situations.

Today Soghomon is gravely ill, and the following diseases were diagnosed and confirmed in various medical establishments; a progressing cancer and Ischemic heart disease with a 3rd stage of cardiopulmonary insufficiency, which are not compatible with suffering the punishment, meaning he should be released. Only Lord knows how much longer he is destined to live in this world.

Many celebrated artists, intellectuals, public and political figures have applied to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan with a plea to grant amnesty to the prisoner, yet they only faced stony indifference. We also turned to His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II, Catholicos of all Armenians, with a plea to urge the president to exercise a humane attitude, based on Christian principles, and to grant amnesty to Kocharyan. Yet, once again, we encountered stony indifference. 

Soghomon’s mother, who lives in extreme poverty, visits her son for several hours in the hospital and lives with hope that Christian Armenia will display a merciful attitude and that her son, having suffered for 21 years, will eventually be able to return to freedom and live his last days, or hopefully months, next to her.

Even on the occasion of the 1700th Anniversary of the establishment and adoption of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia, no reference was made to those condemned to the ultimate degree of punishment, whereas in the neighbouring Islamic Iran the spiritual leader granted pardon even to those who committed extremely grave crimes.

Several days ago I was informed that you were going to meet prisoners again during your visit to the US. Beyond doubt, with such a Christian attitude of yours, many people do and will transform, just like Jean Valjean, the main protagonist of “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, an escaped prisoner, who was reborn and started doing kind deeds after the bishop he had stolen a silver candle-stick from not only refused to give him away to the police but presented him the second one.

Surely good begets good and kindness gives birth to kindness and there can be no real faith without Love.

After a nun, a representative of the Catholic Church performing a spiritual service in one of the prisons of the U.S., learnt that one of the prisoners kept insisting on his innocence for years, she spared no efforts to help him restore justice. The catholic nun turned to lawyers, all respective bodies and officials, to eventually prove that the prisoner was really innocent plead guilty, and, by God’s will, he was acquitted.

Your Holiness Supreme Pontiff, I am pleading you in this open letter to make an appeal for Christian mercy to RA President Serzh Sargsyan, summoning him to release Soghomon Kocharyan, a worthy son of the Armenian nation, in compliance with law, or to grant amnesty to him.

With kindest wishes and filial love,


P. S. God’s glory is great and everything happens upon his will, Amen.

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