By Anush Martirosian and Astghik Bedevian
Armenian security forces do not bear responsibility for the deaths of at least ten people in their post-election clashes with opposition protesters in Yerevan, the recently appointed chief of the national police said on Monday.
Major-General Alik Sargsian claimed that the ongoing trials of opposition members will disprove opposition allegations that the March 1 clashes were a government-orchestrated slaughter aimed at enforcing the official results of the disputed February 19 presidential election.
“The trials will end shortly,” Sargsian told RFE/RL in an interview. “You will see that we have evidence to disprove slander addressed to police.”
“I think the police can not be blamed for what happened. They may have only worked slowly, they may have not been organized at one point,” he said.
The clashes broke out hours after thousands of supporters of opposition presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian barricaded themselves in a sprawling area around the Yerevan mayor’s office. They gathered there following the break-up earlier on March 1 of Ter-Petrosian’s non-stop protests in the city’s Liberty Square.
Sargsian, who served as a regional governor until June and had no part in the bloody suppression of the opposition protests, claimed that the Armenian police still do not know who shot and killed at least eight civilians and two police servicemen. “I really regret that people who committed murders have not yet appeared before court,” he said.
Nearly 100 opposition activists and supporters were arrested in the wake of what the Armenian authorities call an opposition attempt to stage a coup d’etat. None of them was charged with murder.
Sargsian resented suggestions that law-enforcement officers involved in the worst street violence in Armenia’s history should have also been prosecuted for the use of lethal force. “Why should have any policeman been arrested? What for?” he said. “Why do you think the police broke the law? We have investigated [the police actions] in detail.”
Sargsian said he will publicize those details after the end of the ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the clashes. The mandate of an ad hoc commission of the National Assembly conducting the inquiry expires next month.
Samvel Nikoyan, the commission chairman and a senior member of the governing Republican Party, accused the police last month of not cooperating and even hindering the probe. He said the police have refused to provide his panel with sufficient information regarding their actions on March 1.
The criticism dealt a further blow to the credibility of the official theory of the unrest that has been challenged not only by the Armenian opposition but the state human rights defender, Armen Harutiunian. It also paved the way for the launch of a separate, supposedly independent inquiry which was suggested recently by a senior official from the Council of Europe.
Visiting Yerevan in July, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, sounded skeptical about the Nikoyan-led commission’s ability to investigate the March 1 clashes in view of its deep mistrust by the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition. Hammarberg proposed the creation of a new, smaller investigative body that would only collect key facts relating to the unrest and present them to the parliamentary panel. The latter would then make a “political evaluation” based on those facts, he said.
Nikoyan told RFE/RL on Monday that the smaller body is already being set up and that it will comprise an equal number of government and opposition representatives. He said that is why he has delayed the release of his commission’s interim report. “I think I should wait for the fact-finding team to present the results of its work before releasing the report,” said Nikoyan.
However, a leader of Zharangutyun, the only opposition party represented in the Armenian parliament, said that it has not been offered to take part in the work of the fact-finding team.
(Photolur photo: Alik Sargsian.)