By Ruzanna Stepanian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian shrugged off through a senior aide on Wednesday the impending launch of a supposedly independent parliamentary investigation into the deadly clashes between his supporters and security forces that followed Armenia’s disputed presidential election.
The conduct of an “independent, transparent and credible inquiry” was one of the key demands addressed to the Armenian authorities by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in a resolution adopted last April. The European Union and the United States have also stressed the need to establish all circumstances of the March 1 violence in Yerevan that left at least ten people dead and more than 100 others injured.
The authorities have responded to the Western pressure by proposing that such an inquiry be conducted by an hoc commission of the National Assembly. The parliament began debating on Tuesday a relevant bill drawn up by veteran lawmaker Victor Dallakian. It is expected to be passed in time for the upcoming PACE session in Strasbourg.
The commission will comprise two representatives of each of the four parliamentary parties as well as an independent deputy, presumably Dallakian. With only one of those parties, Zharangutyun, being in opposition to the government, at least eight of its 11 members will be government loyalists.
The bill also envisages that the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition and other political groups not represented in the National Assembly will be able to name representatives to the commission. Those representatives will not have voting rights, however. According to Dallakian, international forensic experts will also be invited to take part in the commission’s work.
“This is the first and most serious opportunity for dialogue between political forces,” parliament speaker Tigran Torosian said during the second day of parliament debates on the issue. Other leaders of the pro-government parliament majority also voiced support for the initiative.
However, a leading member of Ter-Petrosian’s Popular Movement alliance, Levon Zurabian, made clear that the former Armenian president and his opposition allies can not a trust a body dominated by government loyalists. “They are setting up a commission most of whose members will represent parties bearing moral responsibility for the March 1 slaughter,” Zurabian told RFE/RL. “That commission will always be able to make decisions beneficial for the authorities.”
“The main mission of the commission is to cover up crimes committed by the prosecutor’s office and the police,” charged Suren Sureniants, a leader of the pro-Ter-Petrosian Hanrapetutyun party.
Zurabian said Ter-Petrosian will agree to join the planned inquiry only if his opposition alliance and the governing four-party coalition are equally represented in the body conducting it. “This is what the authorities don’t accept,” he said. “We therefore consider the formation of this commission an imitation process that will rather cover up the events of March 1 than shed light on them.”
Ter-Petrosian’s demands were backed by Zharangutyun parliamentarians. One of them, Vartan Khachatrian, said that the investigative commission will enjoy the “highest degree of public confidence” only if it consists of “two equal sections.” Still, Khachatrian and other Zharangutyun deputies stopped short of ruling out their faction’s participation in the commission’s work.