By Ruzanna Stepanian
A pro-government lawmaker serving on the parliament’s ad hoc commission on the March 1-2 events has confirmed plans to set up a separate group of experts tasked with a simultaneous inquiry into Armenia’s deadly post-election violence.
Artashes Shahbazian from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation told RFE/RL on Thursday that a draft resolution on a fact-finding group has already been put into circulation and sent to the Council of Europe for an opinion.
Still during his visit to Armenia in mid-July, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, spoke about the need for such a mission that would also involve representatives from the opposition.
It still remains unclear, however, whether the initiative to form such a group belongs to the parliament or the president.
Armenia’s Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian confirmed to RFE/RL that he had been provided with the draft and that he positively assesses the provision in that according to which government and opposition representatives will be involved in this new format on a parity basis.
“There have been a lot of concerns about the level of trust to the current parliamentary commission, which was formed on the coalition majority principle,” Harutiunian said. “At least from I can gather, the fact-finding group will be formed with an equal representation of the government and the opposition.”
The Armenian authorities have been under pressure from the Council of Europe and other international institutions to allow a more objective inquiry since the March 1-2 suppression of opposition demonstrations that left at least ten people dead.
The government-controlled National Assembly formed an ad hoc commission for that purpose in June. However, the country’s main opposition groups had turned down government offers to name representatives to the body, saying that it is dominated by government loyalists and can therefore not be objective.
Harutiunian also emphasized that under ‘the opposition’ the new group will imply the Armenian National Congress of first President Levon Ter-Petrosian and the parliament’s only opposition faction, Zharangutyun (Heritage).
“I consider this to be a very serious display of political will and a very serious step,” the human rights defender stressed.
Harutiunian also made it clear that the group will involve only experts to be nominated by both sides. He also said that the Council of Europe will provide cooperation but did not even rule out direct involvement of its experts if need be.
The Ombudsman, who is also likely to be involved in the group or have his representative in it, says such a format can provide answers to many lingering questions regarding the post-election developments that he doubts the current parliamentary probe will have the ability to handle.
“We can state that during the six months we still don’t know under what circumstances ten people were killed on March 1,” Harutiunian said. “I think the formation of the new fact-finding group may provide fresh impetus to the inquiry in this direction. Six months is a period long enough to be somewhere closer to providing an answer to the question as to who had given the order to shoot.”
The Armenian authorities defend the use of deadly force against opposition supporters who barricaded themselves outside the Yerevan mayor’s office following the break-up of their tent camp in the city’s Liberty Square on March 1. They say the protests were part of Ter-Petrosian’s botched coup attempt. Ter-Petrosian and other opposition leaders strongly deny this, saying that the authorities deliberately killed peaceful protesters to enforce official results of what they consider a fraudulent presidential election held on February 19.
Levon Zurabian, a top representative of the Armenian National Congress, told RFE/RL that no draft on the establishment of the fact-finding group had been presented to them yet and no official proposal in that regard had been made.
The plans to form the group anytime soon have also been confirmed by Samvel Nikoyan, a lawmaker from the governing Republican Party who currently leads the parliamentary probe.
“The decision on establishing such a group is possible any time beginning next Monday,” Nikoyan said.