By Anush Martirosian
The head of a special parliamentary commission investigating the bloody post-election unrest in Yerevan called on Friday for the launch of criminal proceedings against police officers that ineptly used tear gas against opposition protesters on March 1, 2008.
According to Armenian law-enforcement authorities, tear gas grenades fired from a very short distance killed three of the eight civilians who lost their lives on that day. They say that only four officers used such grenades and that they still can not determine which of them caused those deaths.
Samvel Nikoyan, a pro-government deputy leading the parliamentary inquiry, said investigators “can and must subject all four men to criminal liability” for mishandling the riot equipment. He cited a letter from the Russian manufacturer of the Cheremukha-7 grenades which makes clear that they must not be fired at point-blank range.
The letter was sent to Yerevan last month in response to an inquiry from Nikoyan’s commission. Some commission members wondered why the Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body leading the criminal investigation into the March 1 clashes, hadn’t asked the Russians for such information during the previous nine months.
Their questions were echoed by Armen Harutiunian, the state human rights ombudsman who also attends commission meetings. “The Special Investigative Service should have done that if it really wanted to understand how those people died,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL. “They should not have waited for nine months.”
Nikoyan also suggested that the grenades fired at supporters of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian demanding a re-run of the February presidential election were outdated. “The maximum time for keeping Cheremukha-7 grenades filled with tear gas is five years,” he said, again citing the Russian letter. “What is clear is that Armenia imported Cheremukha-7 in 1986 and 1989.” Still, he said the letter added that outdated gas grenade cause no harm to human beings.
The SIS and other law-enforcement bodies have yet to explain the circumstances in which the five other civilian men died during the clashes. No security official has been prosecuted in connection with those deaths.
The clashes also left two interior troop servicemen dead. The authorities insist that they were killed by protesters. However, none of the more than 100 opposition members and supporters arrested following the unrest faced murder charges.