By Astghik Bedevian and Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s main opposition forces were considering on Friday accepting a government offer to participate in a new inquiry into the March 1 clashes in Yerevan on an equal footing with government representatives.
President Serzh Sarkisian approved on Thursday the creation of the five-member Fact-Finding Group of Experts tasked with collecting key facts relating to the post-election unrest. That information is meant to help an ad hoc commission of the Armenian parliament to determine whether the use of lethal force against opposition protesters was justified and to ascertain the circumstances in which ten people died on that day.
Under an executive order signed by Sarkisian, the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) led by Levon Ter-Petrosian and the Zharangutyun party of Raffi Hovannisian will each name one member of the group. Two other members will be nominated by Armenia’s governing coalition loyal to the president. The other member will represent the state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian.
Ter-Petrosian and his alliance did not officially respond to the offer as of Friday evening. The HAK has until November 2 to nominate a member of the group.
Zharangutyun’s governing board, meanwhile, was meeting late Friday to decide whether to join the new probe. Two senior member of the only opposition party represented in the Armenian parliament spoke out in favor of accepting the offer before the meeting.
Armen Martirosian, the nominal leader of Zharangutyun’s parliamentary faction, described as “balanced” the proposed format of the supposedly independent inquiry. Another Zharangutyun lawmaker, Stepan Safarian, said Sarkisian’s decision to set up the investigative body was “overdue but necessary.”
Some pro-government lawmakers were confident that both opposition groups will agree to take part in the probe. “This is the kind of format they were proposing,” said Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party.
Zohrabian and other representatives of Armenia’s four-party governing coalition said they will meet in the coming days to decide who will represent the government camp in the Fact-Finding Group. They told journalists that they will not compete to have individuals linked to their respective parties sit on the ad hoc body. “We need to have specialists working there,” said Artyusha Shahbazian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Ombudsman Harutiunian also welcomed the president’s decision and made clear that he will name a representative to the group. “I consider this format much more effective and have decided to definitely participate,” he told RFE/RL.
Harutiunian urged the opposition to follow suit even if it has misgivings about the group’s rights and powers. He argued that the opposition and government sides will be equally represented in it. “I always avoid commenting on political issues but will say this time that it would be right to start a process on the basis of this idea,” he said.