By Ruzanna Stepanian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
The opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party of Raffi Hovannisian demanded on Friday that the Armenian authorities embark on democratic reforms, release all “political prisoners” and ensure an “independent and impartial” investigation into the post-election violence in Yerevan.
In a resolution adopted at a one-day congress, Zharangutyun said that failure to do this could lead to a repeat of the March 1 clashes between opposition protesters and security forces, which left at least ten people dead.
“So long as Armenia’s democratic establishments are not awakened from their sleeplike dormant state of inaptness, the forcible rules of the game are maintained, the criminals remain unpunished, and the officialdom does not give any legal and political assessment of the often-culpable and criminally-prosecutable violations by administrative agencies and state servants, evading -- or disregarding -- the deep-rooted political and democratic reforms could signal the danger of another March 1 calamity,” read the document.
In his speech at the congress, Hovannisian blamed the authorities for the “slaughter.” He dismissed the official justification for the use of deadly force against thousands of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who barricaded themselves outside the Yerevan mayor’s office following the break-up of their peaceful sit-in in the city’s Liberty Square. He said the authorities have failed to come up with any evidence of gunfire directed at riot troops dealing with the angry crowd.
The authorities have since been under international pressure to allow an independent inquiry into the worst street violence in Armenia’s history. The Armenian parliament formed a ad hoc commission tasked with conducting such an inquiry last month. Zharangutyun was invited to appoint two members of the multi-party commission by virtue of being represented in the National Assembly.
Extraparliamentary political forces, including Ter-Petrosian’s Popular Movement alliance, were also offered to name representatives to the body. Ter-Petrosian was quick to reject the invitation on the grounds that the commission is dominated by government loyalists.
Hovannisian made clear that Zharangutyun will also boycott the parliamentary inquiry. “Is it possible to achieve a degree of credibility in a National Assembly which is also to blame for the events of March 1?” he said.
Hovannisian said he mistrusts the commission also because it has no intention to question senior officials and “especially” former President Robert Kocharian.
The commission on Monday send a list of questions to Ter-Petrosian and the chief of the Armenian police, Alik Sargsian, relating to the March 1 clashes. Its chairman, Samvel Nikoyan, told RFE/RL that they have yet to reply to the letters.
Nikoyan and another commission member, Naira Zohrabian, met on Thursday with two of three opposition parliamentarians arrested on coup charges, Sasun Mikaelian and Miasnik Malkhasian, to question them about their version of events. “Frankly, the meetings were not particularly cordial,” Nikoyan said, adding that both men insisted on their innocence.
Meanwhile, the Zharangutyun congress left it to the party’s newly elected board to decide whether the party should joint the Armenian National Congress (HAK), a new opposition alliance which is being set up by Ter-Petrosian.
In his address to the congress, Ter-Petrosian said he is confident that Zharangutyun will become “one of the pillars” of the HAK.