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Armenian Opposition Vows To Continue Probe Of Postelection Violence

Relatives of a protester killed in the postelection violence lay flowers in his memory in Yerevan in April 2008
Relatives of a protester killed in the postelection violence lay flowers in his memory in Yerevan in April 2008
Levon Zurabian, who is a leading member of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian's Armenian National Congress (HAK), announced on June 25 that the HAK intends to form a committee that will continue to investigate the circumstances of the violent clashes in Yerevan on March 1-2, 2008, Noyan Tapan reported on June 29.

President Serzh Sarkisian last month dissolved the five-person independent group of experts he established last fall and tasked with assessing the findings of the ad hoc parliamentary commission set up under pressure from international human rights bodies to review the events that culminated in the Yerevan violence.

Ten people were killed during the night of March 1-2, when police and security forces clashed with Ter-Petrossian supporters protesting the apparent rigging of the February 19 presidential ballot. According to official returns, Sarkisian polled 52.8 percent of the vote and Ter-Petrossian 21.5 percent.

Under pressure from the Council of Europe, in June 2008, Sarkisian established an ad hoc parliamentary commission tasked with investigating the events that led to violence. That commission was originally supposed to present its findings by mid-October 2008, but that deadline was extended twice, first until mid-February 2009 and then until mid-September.

By February of this year, the commission had established that three of the deaths were caused by outdated tear-gas canisters fired into the crowd of protesters, but it was unable to identify which of four police officers armed with such canisters fired them, and on whose orders.

The five-person Fact-Finding Group of Experts was likewise established in response to pressure from the Council of Europe, with the aim of independently evaluating the findings of the ad hoc parliamentary commission.

But its very composition -- two of its members were selected by the ruling (then four-party) coalition, two by the opposition (the HAK and Zharangutiun, the only opposition party represented in the Armenian parliament), and its chairman by human rights ombudsman Armen Harutiunian -- proved an obstacle to its effectiveness.

In early May, the two pro-government members suspended their activity, Three weeks later, the group's chairman, Vahe Stepanian, stepped down in desperation, saying he could no longer guarantee cooperation between its members.

On May 27, Armen Martirosian, a senior member of the opposition Zharangutiun party, told journalists that his party would make public the group's findings to date if the group did not resume its probe. On June 8, Sarkisian abolished the group, citing its ineffectiveness.

But parliament deputy Naira Zohrabian, who represents Prosperous Armenia, one of the three remaining coalition parties, said on July 1 the group managed to compile 2,000 pages of documentation which has been handed over to the ad hoc parliamentary commission. She also said members of the ad hoc commission plan to meet with the police officers who fired the fatal tear-gas canisters.

As for the planned HAK investigation, it was not clear from Zurabian's June 25 comments whether the HAK and Zharangutiun will conduct a joint or separate probes.

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.


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