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Clash Probe Asks for Evidence in ‘Bodyguard’ Claim


Armenia -- Riot police confront opposition protesters in Yerevan on 01Mar2008

Armenia -- Riot police confront opposition protesters in Yerevan on 01Mar2008

Armenia’s parliamentary ad hoc commission conducting a probe into last year’s deadly post-election clashes has urged the opposition to provide substantial evidence to the allegation that ‘unauthorized armed groups’ might have participated in the suppression of street riots in Yerevan on March 1-2, 2008.

The move comes shortly after two opposition members in an alternative inquiry alleged an unauthorized issue of uniforms from government stocks to several senior officials with the implication that the camouflage outfit might have been worn by their bodyguards involved in the action.

The parliamentary probe on Friday decided to follow on the latest report by Andranik Kocharian and Seda Safarian, former members of the disbanded Fact-Finding Group of Experts, who referred to the information provided by the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) alleging that five senior government officials and four members of parliament received a total of 950 sets of camouflage outfit from the Ministry of Defense on the day of clashes in Yerevan.

A ledger sheet that the HAK claims to be authentic, in particular, mentions the names of the leader of the pro-government Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) Gagik Tsarukian, Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamian, Yerevan mayor Gagik Beglarian and others.

Samvel Nikoyan, the pro-establishment head of the commission, formally published the information, but said it needed to be supported by a substantial body of evidence.

“The HAK insisted that it had received it from a reliable source, but it did not disclose the source of information for security reasons,” he said.

Nikoyan suggested inviting HAK representatives for “additional explanations.”

“I wish the HAK started cooperating with us earlier. But if they decided to offer us to study this issue now, we will do that,” he added.

“The authorities are in fact accused of setting up illegal armed groups,” commission member Artsvik Minasian specified, suggesting that the authors of the report should also be invited to participate in the commission’s work.

“In fact, this is one of the gravest accusations punishable under a Criminal Code article. Let them participate as well. The commission has a possibility to check any information,” Minasian said.

Another member of the commission, Gurgen Arsenian, described the report as having ‘a horrific potential’.

“We must very quickly check the veracity of this information, because even if there is one gram of truth in this information, I cannot even imagine what the consequences will be,” Arsenian underlined.

Commission member Aram Safarian made a statement on behalf of the BHK, saying that the party’s leader Gagik Tsarukian has been “among the supporters of the army for a long time” and “we never needed to get anything for free or to pay to get anything from storehouses.”

Safarian also emphasized that the party backed the initiative of an additional inquiry “to check by all means what paper it is and what is behind it.”

Street battles between security forces and supporters of ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian, an officially defeated candidate in Armenia’s 2008 presidential election, left 10 people dead and hundreds injured.

Ter-Petrosian and other leaders of his current opposition alliance have repeatedly alleged, including in their public speeches, the involvement of ‘notorious people’s’ bodyguards in last year’s street violence.
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