By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, on Friday brushed aside law enforcement authorities’ assurances that they are unable to identify police officers who mishandled riot equipment during last year’s post-election unrest in Yerevan.
At least eight civilians and two police servicemen were killed in the March 1 clashes between security forces and opposition protesters who barricaded themselves in the city center. The Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body investigating the clashes, say three of the civilian victims were directly hit by tear gas grenades fired by riot police from close range. It says investigators have so far failed to establish which of the four policemen, who they say used tear gas on that day, was responsible for these deaths.
According to Vahagn Harutiunian, a senior SIS official heading the probe, forensic experts from the Russian Interior Ministry have also examined grenade fragments extracted from the victims’ bodies and the rifles from which they were fired and concluded recently that such an identification is technically impossible. He made the comments while being questioned by members of an Armenian parliamentary commission that has been conducting a separate inquiry into the clashes.
Ombudsman Harutiunian (no relation), who is involved in the commission’s work, dismissed the explanation. “I don’t trust these forensic tests,” he said. “I don’t believe that four officers used [tear gas grenades] and three people died and that it is impossible to clarify who is to blame [for the deaths.]”
The SIS investigators have yet to explain circumstances in which the five other civilians lost their lives on March 1. None of more than 100 opposition members and supporters arrested following the bloody suppression of post-election opposition protests in Yerevan was charged in connection with these and other deaths.