Three pro-government members of the five-person Fact-Finding Group of Experts established in October 2008 to probe the circumstances of the March 1-2 clashes in Yerevan between police and protesters have temporarily suspended
their participation in that probe.
The remaining two members, Levon Zurabian, a leading member of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian's Armenian National Congress (HAK), and Stepan Safarian of the Zharangutiun (Heritage) party, the sole opposition party represented in parliament, told journalists on May 5 they believe that decision was made under pressure from the authorities after the group's first confidential report was leaked to the press.
The five-member group was set up by President Serzh Sarkisian with the aim of evaluating the findings of the ad hoc parliament commission established several months earlier to investigate the postpresidential election clashes. In accordance with an executive order signed by Sarkisian, the HAK and Zharangutiun each named one member of the group. Two other members were nominated by Armenia's four-party governing coalition. The state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, selected the fifth member, Vahe Stepanian. The group elected Stepanian as its chairman when it met for the first time in November.
Stepanian said on May 5 that he and two other group members chosen by the ruling coalition have "temporarily suspended" their activities because they need to take a rest after six months of difficult work. "We are only talking about nine working days from May 4 to May 18," he told RFE/RL. "In accordance with our decision, we will hold our next meeting on May 18."
The leaked preliminary findings of the Group of Experts differed in key respects from those of the ad hoc commission. For example, the Experts concluded that Gamlet Tadevosian, one of two police officers who died in the melee, was killed not by an explosive device thrown by one of the protesters, but when a grenade he was holding detonated prematurely.
The ad hoc commission decided on May 5 to ask Vahagn Harutiunian, a senior Special Investigative Service official overseeing the investigation, to testify before the parliamentary inquiry and provide a more detailed explanation. Its chairman, Samvel Nikoyan, condemned the information leak as a serious breach of the statutes of the Fact-Finding Group.
On May 2, former Armenian police chief General Haik Harutiunian was quoted
as telling the ad hoc commission that no orders were issued to open fire at the protesters, as doing so could have caused "thousands of casualties." He said the police fired only into the air.
Also on May 5, seven witnesses at the simultaneous trials of three close Ter-Petrossian supporters arrested after the March 1-2 clashes and charged with seeking to overthrow the government retracted
their testimony on the grounds that it had been given under pressure or physical violence.
-- Liz Fuller and Karine Kalantarian