Garo Yegnukian, a U.S. citizen, was arrested on July 20, 2016 and has since been illegally held in pretrial detention in Armenia’s old KGB prison. Garo has been a victim of political persecution since 2012 for being outspoken against the current despotic regime. He has also been active in matters of civil society (from saving city parks and landmarked structures to pursuing justice for murder victims of the oligarchic regime). Members of the regime along with their crew of thugs have, on several occasions, threatened Garo and his family, vandalized his personal property and even assaulted Garo and his family members (including underage children).
The Armenian courts have committed countless violations of Armenian law and international norms over the past 11 months. The baseless charges, which carry a sentence of up to 20 years, and groundless evidence against him (handful of tapped phone conversations) are invasions of freedom of speech since that is all Garo did, he spoke.
Garo has also been denied his right to a speedy trial. If tried separately for those phone taps, Garo’s trial would last a maximum of 1 month. There are no witnesses, no evidence, no victims; the judge would listen to the phone taps and determine innocence or guilt. The prosecution chose to join his case with 13 others and the court denied 3 different motions to separate the case and by doing so will ensure that Garo remains locked up for the duration of the trial which could take years; up to 5 or 6 years. An unprecedented bail amount has also been denied without any sort of substantiation. The judicial system in Armenia is not independent and serves the interest of the regime. Thus Garo’s human and legal rights have been continuously violated and will continue to be violated unless there is outside intervention.
Garo Yegnukian was born in Soviet Armenia in 1959 from where his family (parents, grandmother and brother) emigrated in 1971. After an arduous journey, they arrived and eventually settled in New York City in 1973. Garo went through the NYC public school system. In 1981, he graduated from Pace University with a BA in Marketing and, in 1988, graduated from St. John’s University Law School. He was admitted to the New York State Bar. Garo worked continuously from the day he arrived in NY at the age of 14 until his arrest in July of 2016; first at a printing press then with the family automotive business which his father had established. The family business proved to be successful and they expanded into automotive accessory manufacturing and entered the real estate business (Yegnukian Realty Corp.) which currently owns and manages property in five U.S. states. Garo, his wife of 25 years and their 5 children, born in NY, lived comfortably in the Forest Hills Gardens neighborhood of NY. The Yegnukians had truly achieved the American Dream.
Garo always had a keen interest and maintained strong ties with his homeland. This connection heightened with the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the subsequent independence of Armenia. Garo has been a member of the Union for National Self-Determination for 29 years, the first and only democratic organization functioning within the Soviet Union. During a trip to Armenia in late 1990, Garo and his father, Hagop, discussed the possibility of making a partial move to Armenia. On board the return flight Hagop suffered a debilitating stroke, which left him wheelchair bound and in need of constant care. During the next 18 years Garo, along with his family, cared for his father until his death in July 2008.
On July 1, 2009 Garo’s family of 7 finally made that partial (he kept his home and business dealings in the U.S. and continues to pay U.S. taxes) move to Armenia. His dream and aspiration all along was to bring his notion of that very American Dream that he had achieved in the U.S. to Armenia. That endeavor led him to prison.
Garo, initially, wanted to put his vast experience to use in Armenia and using his entrepreneurial skills to create business opportunities. He soon realized this was not possible in a corrupt environment where thievery is rewarded and honesty punished. Instead Garo immersed himself into matters of civil society, human rights, democracy and benevolent activities. One such example is the establishment of the Rights and Support Foundation in 2013 which provided legal support to civil activists that were being politically persecuted and financial support to the families of those that were incarcerated for such activism and were political prisoners. Ironically, less than 3 years after establishing and funding Rights and Support, Garo too became a political prisoner.
That Armenia’s modern day Soviet style totalitarian government is punishing him is no surprise but that he is the ONLY U.S. citizen being held as a political prisoner in Armenia and the U.S. State Department and U.S. Embassy have remained relatively silent about his case for the past 11 months is of utmost concern. The U.S. government has done so much for political prisoners in other countries, some of them not even U.S. citizens. However, Garo Yegnukian’s case seems to have fallen through the cracks of justice.
Garo is seeking two things: justice and the chance to bring the virtues of the American Dream to a far corner of the world. Your assistance, support and guidance in this effort is invaluable. Please help in bringing awareness to Garo’s predicament.