By Hovannes Shoghikian and Ruzanna Stepanian
Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian will name a representative to a new body tasked with conducting an independent investigation into the post-election clashes in Yerevan, a senior member of his Armenian National Congress (HAK) said on Wednesday.
The HAK and its top leader have yet to decide whether to take one of the five seats in the Fact-Finding Group of Experts formed by President Serzh Sarkisian. The other members are to be named by the opposition Zharangutyun party, Armenia’s governing coalition and human rights Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian.
Harutiunian filled his quota on Wednesday, nominating the chief of his staff, Vahe Stepanian. He expressed confidence that Stepanian, who had served as justice minister during Ter-Petrosian’s rule, will be “acceptable to both sides.”
“We have still not made a decision,” said Aram Manukian, prominent HAK figure. “In my view and judging from conversations in my entourage, we will participate in the work of the fact-finding group despite its flaws. It does have a number of serious shortcomings.”
Ter-Petrosian on Monday questioned the investigative body’s independence, downplaying the fact that the opposition and government camps will have equal representation there. He said it will be “subordinated” to an ad hoc commission of the Armenian parliament also charged with investigating the March 1 clashes between opposition protesters and security forces. Both the HAK and Zharangutyun have boycotted the parliamentary inquiry on the grounds that it is controlled by pro-government lawmakers.
Under an executive order signed by Sarkisian late last week, the Fact-Finding Group’s mission will be to collect key facts relating to the clashes and submit them to the parliamentary commission. The latter will then assess that information.
Meeting with parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian on Wednesday, members of the commission again complained that the Armenian police and other law-enforcement bodies have not sufficiently cooperated with their inquiry.
“I am ready to step in and go to the end so that any helpful information is made available to the commission,” responded Abrahamian. He said he has already requested and received corresponding assurances from Alik Sargsian, the chief of the national police close to the influential speaker.
“We have no obligation to cover up the deeds of any official,” said Abrahamian. “We will criticize and punish any official who made mistakes in relation to the events of March 1-2.”
Abrahamian at the same time described as “absurd” opposition claims that the security forces received government orders to shoot and kill people on March 1 in order to prevent Ter-Petrosian and his supporters from toppling the government following the disputed February 19 presidential election.
“Every ordinary citizen understands that the authorities were uninterested in what happened more than anyone else,” he said. “The president of the republic, the government, the National Assembly, law-enforcement bodies want to uncover the truth and present it to the public.”
(Photolur photo: Aram Manukian.)