By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian authorities will allow an “independent” investigation into the deadly post-election clashes in Yerevan which is being sought by the Council of Europe and other international bodies, a senior pro-government said at the weekend.
The need for such an inquiry was stressed by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in its April 17 resolution on the dramatic unrest that followed Armenia’s recent presidential election. The assembly said the Armenian government should also drop severe restrictions on freedom of assembly and release opposition activists “detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges.”
The government pledged to comply with the resolution, with President Serzh Sarkisian setting up a working group tasked with proposing relevant executive and legislative steps. Hovik Abrahamian, the chief of the presidential administration chairing the group, told RFE/RL Saturday that those proposals are ready and will be submitted to Sarkisian early this week.
According to Avet Adonts, a member of the group and the Armenian delegation at the PACE, one of them will call for the launch of an independent inquiry into the March 1 clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, which left at least ten people dead. “I am confident that a commission will be formed before the June session of the PACE to conduct an independent investigation,” he told RFE/RL.
Adonts said the commission is likely to be formed by the National Assembly and comprise representatives of all political parties represented in the legislature as well as members of “extraparliamentary forces” and international forensic experts. The body will need “months” to clarify all circumstances of the worst street violence in Armenia’s history, he said.
The authorities in Yerevan maintain that the violence was instigated by Ter-Petrosian, who refuses to concede his defeat in the disputed presidential election, with the aim of toppling the government by force. More than a hundred of his supporters have been arrested and prosecuted on corresponding charges dismissed as baseless and politically motivated by the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition. The latter says that the government crackdown on the opposition has continued unabated since the passage of the PACE resolution.
While insisting that there are no political prisoners in Armenia, Adonts hinted that at least some of the jailed oppositions could be released before the next PACE session scheduled for late June. “I can’t state that there are political prisoners in our country,” he said. “But if there is a person who has been punished for his political views, he must be immediately set free.”
“We have actively interacted with the prosecutor’s office, and I think you will soon see practical steps,” he added without elaborating.
The authorities have also pledged to at least partly repeal the recently enacted legal amendments that empower them to ban opposition rallies practically at will. The leadership of the Armenian parliament has already drafted fresh amendments supposedly based on the recommendations of experts from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The experts are currently examining them. The parliament may start debating the proposed changes to Armenia’s law on public gatherings as early as on May 19.
Adonts, who also heads the parliament committee on European integration, said the working group formed by Sarkisian has also tried to address PACE calls for a dialogue between the government and the opposition by suggesting that the tiny opposition minority in the National Assembly be given more rights. The group also advocates the creation of a presidential “public chamber” including prominent politicians and public figures.
As well as demanding an end to the government crackdown, the PACE said the Armenian opposition should accept a Constitutional Court ruling that upheld Sarkisian’s controversial election victory. “This should not be interpreted as the obligation to accept the merits of the court’s decision,” its resolution said, adding that the ruling can be appealed at the European Court of Human Rights.
Ter-Petrosian has said through aides that he will lodge such an appeal.