Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on April 10 to mark the first anniversary of his inauguration as president of Armenia, Serzh Sarkisian acknowledged that the police were partly to blame for the 10 fatalities that resulted from the violent standoff in Yerevan on March 1-2 2008 between police and security forces and angry supporters of defeated presidential challenger and former President Levon Ter-Petrossian.
At the same time, Sarkisian expressed confidence that the May 31 mayoral elections in Yerevan, in which Ter-Petrossian will be a candidate, will not trigger a similar violent confrontation, Noyan Tapan reported.
Sarkisian admitted that the police acted with insufficient professional skill, a failing he attributed to the fact that "we are obliged to maintain a large, efficient army, to spend huge resources on the armed forces, and consequently the police has for years been underfunded."
That underfunding, he continued, was why some police officers ended up firing out of date tear gas grenades at the protesters.
Sarkisian admitted that the schism within Armenian society resulting from the March 1 violence has not been bridged, and that "there is no solidarity."
At the same time, he ruled out holding pre-term parliamentary elections (due in 2011), which some have argued would ease tensions. Sarkisian stressed that the precise timeframe for holding elections is set down in the Republic of Armenia constitution.
But he also did not rule out amnesty for opposition activists tried and sentenced for their role in the March 2008 violence. Such an amnesty would only take place when the ongoing trials are over, however.
Sarkisian also admitted on April 10 that the talks with Turkey that got under way shortly after his inauguration on normalizing bilateral relations could fail
if Ankara sets renewed preconditions.
But even if it turns out that Yerevan was "mistaken in its calculations," Sarkisian continued, "I think that even in that case we would emerge from this process stronger.... Through this process, we have once again emphasized -- and the international community has seen -- that we really are ready to establish relations [with Turkey] without preconditions."