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Opposition Experts Raise More Questions About Unrest Deaths


Armenia -- A car set on fire during the 01Mar2008 clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces

Armenia -- A car set on fire during the 01Mar2008 clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces

The two opposition members of the now defunct bipartisan body that investigated last year’s post-election unrest in Yerevan have raised more questions about the deaths of two security personnel in vicious clashes with opposition protesters.

In an extensive newspaper article published on Wednesday, Andranik Kocharian and Seda Safarian sought to disprove the official theory that Tigran Abgarian, a soldier of the Armenian interior troops, died of gunshots fired by one of the protesters from a long distance.

Abgarian was one of the ten persons killed late on March 1, 2008 in the clashes sparked by a disputed presidential election. The 19-year-old conscript was gravely wounded in the neck and died in hospital without regaining consciousness more than one month later.

Kocharian and Safarian accused Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS), which has led the criminal inquiry into the unprecedented violence, of failing to properly investigate and covering up circumstances of Abgarian’s death. They claimed that he was shot from a point-blank range, pointing to the size and nature of his wounds reported by forensic experts.

It was an implicit suggestion that the protesters were not responsible for the soldier’s death. The Armenian opposition has said all along that the authorities themselves killed Abgarian and the other police casualty, Captain Hamlet Tadevosian, to justify the use of deadly force against supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian demanding a re-run of the February 2008 vote.

The circumstances of Tadevosian’s death were the subject of the first and only report of the bipartisan Fact-Finding Group of Experts released in late April. The report signed by three of its five members, including Kocharian and Safarian, dismissed government claims that the officer was killed by a grenade thrown by a protester.

The report’s publication by the opposition press heightened simmering tensions between the group’s pro-government and opposition members, resulting in the resignation of its non-partisan chairman, Vahe Stepanian. That led President Serzh Sarkisian to formally disband the group on June 8.

In a written statement provided to RFE/RL on Thursday, the SIS dismissed Kocharian’s and Safarian’s claims as “illogical” and “absurd” and accused the opposition experts of distorting key facts. But Stepanian took the published article far more seriously.

“The document contains some essential material which was not previously made available to us by the Special Investigative Service,” the former group chairman told RFE/RL. “I find it hard to assess its objectivity and credibility. But one thing is evident to me. This document needs to be seriously examined not only by the SIS but also Samvel Nikoyan’s commission.”

Stepanian referred to a parliamentary commission, headed by Nikoyan, which has also been investigating the March 2008 clashes. Nikoyan said its is already looking into the article. He claimed at the same time that many facts contained in it were already known to the commission.

“We have addressed this issue on numerous occasions,” said Nikoyan. “Most recently ten days ago … Unfortunately, with the documents we had at our disposal we could not clarify what caused the death.”

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