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Armenian Violence Probe To Be Extended -- Again

It's unclear how many of the riot police deployed at the protests are to blame for firing tear-gas cannister into the crowd.

It's unclear how many of the riot police deployed at the protests are to blame for firing tear-gas cannister into the crowd.

At its winter session in late January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) gave the Armenian authorities additional time to comply with two resolutions it adopted last year outlining measures to defuse political tensions in the wake of the post-presidential election violence in Yerevan on March 1-2 that caused 10 deaths.

On February 16, Samvel Nikoyan, who is the chairman of the Armenian parliament's ad hoc commission established in June 2008 to investigate the events that culminated in the violent standoff between police and security forces and supporters of defeated presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian, announced that the commission will ask parliament to extend its mandate, which is due to expire on February 25, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported.

Nikoyan said that the ad hoc commission needs more time as a parallel five-person fact-finding group created in July has not yet provided it with the required information, and it cannot therefore clarify the chain of events that resulted in the 10 deaths.

The ad hoc commission was formed in response to pressure from the international community, and it was initially envisaged that it would present its findings by October 25. On October 13, however, its members formally asked the parliament to extend that deadline in order to enable them to incorporate the findings of the fact-finding group; the parliament duly extended the mandate of the ad hoc commission for four months, until February 25.

Nikoyan's February 16 statement is at odds, however, with comments he made three weeks earlier, on January 23. On that occasion, Nikoyan implicated, but did not name, four police officers who fired allegedly outdated tear-gas grenades against Ter-Petrossian's supporters. Nikoyan explained that an internal investigation conducted by Special Investigative Service that is focusing specifically on the criminal aspects of the violence found that three of the eight civilians who died in the clashes were directly hit by tear-gas grenades fired by riot police from close range.

That probe apparently failed, however, to determine which of the four riot police officers who admitted to firing such grenades was responsible for the three deaths. Armenian human rights ombudsman Armen Harutiunian on February 13 categorically rejected the Special Investigative Service disclaimer that it is impossible to identify who was to blame for the fatalities, saying that he "does not trust those forensic tests."

On February 17, the daily "Haykakan zhamanak," citing unnamed police sources, named the four Interior Ministry personnel responsible for firing the tear-gas grenades, and also a lieutenant colonel who allegedly issued the orders to do so.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.