By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenian interior forces that clashed with opposition protesters in Yerevan on March 1 resorted to sniper fire but made sure it does not kill anyone, a top police general said on Friday.
Lieutenant-General Grigor Grigorian, who commanded the Police Troops at the time, made the statements at a closed session of an Armenian parliamentary commission investigating the unrest. Details of his testimony were then presented to journalists by the commission chairman, Samvel Nikoyan.
Nikoyan caused a stir last month by confirming that at least one sniper was among interior troops, regular police units and other security forces deployed near a vast street intersection in central Yerevan where opposition protesters built barricades just hours after the break-up of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian’s non-stop demonstrations in the city’s Liberty Square. Opposition sources had for months alleged that at least some of the eight civilians killed in that area came under sniper fire. Law-enforcement authorities have strongly denied this.
Nikoyan cited Grigorian as telling the commission that he ordered a sniper to open fire at a protester who shot and fatally wounded one of his soldiers, Tigran Abgarian, during the interior troops’ retreat from the barricaded area. “He instructed the sniper to take up a convenient position and try to neutralize the individual who opened fire from that intersection and was going to keep firing,” said Nikoyan “The sniper shot in that direction and, according to the [police] information, wounded that individual in the leg.”
The latter managed to escape and was never caught by the police, he added. The general insisted that the sniper did not kill anyone. “The sniper fired only one shot,” he said, according to Nikoyan.
None of more than 100 opposition supporters and activists arrested in the wake of March 1 was charged in connection with the deaths of Abgarian and another, more high-ranking interior trooper. Also, law-enforcement authorities conducting a separate criminal investigation into the unrest claim to have still not ascertained the circumstances in which the eight civilians were killed on that day.
Grigorian suggested on Friday that his troops were not responsible for any of those deaths. He also stood by police claims that the protesters used firearms and hand grenades during the clashes.