In his third annual report since being named Armenia's human rights ombudsman in February 2006, Armen Harutiunian delivered a damning indictment of what he branded the country's "oligarchic" political system.
Presenting the 250-page report to journalists in Yerevan on March 10, Harutiunian argued that since Armenia became independent in late 1991, the government bureaucracy and favored oligarchs have "subordinated the state to themselves.... Political decisions are solely made in government structures."
He said that all pervasive control extends to economic activity. "There are no free economic relations in Armenia. Without liberal economics it is meaningless to talk about human rights protection." "It is time to renounce the culture of opportunities in favor of a culture of law," he added.
Harutiunian identified as "key pillars" of the "repressive system" that independent Armenia inherited from the USSR and preserved virtually intact the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Special Investigative Service. He said his office receives "numerous complaints" from the population that the Special Investigative Service forces people "to make confessions or give [incriminating] testimonies against third persons."
The ombudsman went on to allege that Armenian law enforcement bodies are incompetent. "That nonprofessionalism is a heavy burden on all of us and, first of all, the government system, which has become hostage to that nonprofessionalism," he said.
Harutiunian has become increasingly critical of the Armenian authorities since the crackdown a year ago by police and security forces on demonstrators protesting the official results of the February 19 presidential election, which gave then-Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian some 53 percent of the vote compared with 21.5 percent for his closest challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian.
Harutiunian issued a report in April 2008 challenging the authorities' stated rationale for using lethal forces against the protesters, and in January 2009 he said he flatly disbelieves Special Investigative Service claims that forensic tests could not determine which of four police officers who fired out-dated tear-gas grenades at protesters was responsible for killing several of them.
Despite his criticisms of the Armenian government, Harutiunian nonetheless remains committed to the concept of "national reconciliation," and has advocated an amnesty for jailed Ter-Petrossian supporters as one way to promote it. The newspaper "Yerkir" on March 6 quoted him as warning that "the opposition and the authorities are parts of the same society, and I would advise them not to think in 'us' and 'them' categories. It is this division into 'us' and 'them' that hinders the building of our statehood."
-- Karine Kalantarian and Liz Fuller