By Ruzanna Stepanian and Hovannes Shoghikian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian on Monday expressed serious misgivings about a government offer to the Armenian opposition to participate in a new, supposedly independent investigation into the March 1 clashes in Yerevan on an equal footing with government representatives.
Ter-Petrosian said that those guilty of the deadly post-election clashes between his supporters and security forces will not be brought to justice as long as President Serzh Sarkisian remains in power.
In a move welcomed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union, 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, Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) 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 state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, will pick the fifth member.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Ter-Petrosian said he and other HAK leaders have still not decided whether to join the new inquiry. “This body is not independent because it is subordinated to the existing parliamentary commission and is supposed to present its report to the latter,” he said. “And that report will then be evaluated by the commission.”
“This group should have replaced the special parliamentary commission,” he added.
Both the HAK and Zharangutyun have boycotted that commission’s work on the grounds that it is dominated by pro-government parliamentarians. The boycott was a key reason why the Armenian authorities agreed to a new format of the unrest probe.
Ter-Petrosian claimed that the new probe will also lack transparency. He argued that under the presidential order, members of the fact-finding group will be forbidden from publicizing any details of the inquiry or even commenting on it before submitting their report to the parliamentary commission.
“But never mind. We are used to difficulties. If we see any opportunity to do some useful work there, we will take it,” Ter-Petrosian said, not ruling out the possibility of the HAK’s participation in the probe.
Ombudsman Harutiunian, meanwhile, reiterated on Monday that he will name a representative to the investigative group despite not being fully satisfied with Sarkisian’s order. He described it as the Armenian government’s first “serious step” towards a dialogue with the opposition. “Its positive aspects are not sufficient for being confident, but are sufficient for trying,” Harutiunian told journalists. “There are risk factors, but we need to understand the degree of responsibility.”
“You can’t expect ideal decisions in an environment of political intolerance,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian spoke to RFE/RL at the Yerablur military cemetery in Yerevan where he laid flowers at the tomb of the late Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian on the ninth anniversary of the latter’s assassination in the October 1999 armed attack on the Armenian parliament. The first president of Armenia again accused his successors, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian, of complicity in the still mysterious attack that also left seven other officials dead. “Even if they only covered up [the killings,] impeded the investigation or failed to ensure a fair court ruling, that still counts as complicity,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian insisted that regime change is a necessary condition for solving the October 1999 and March 2008 killings. “How can a government that committed those crimes solve them?” he said. “As long as it is in power, they won’t be solved.”