An Armenian law-enforcement body said on Monday that it has started questioning witnesses as part of its renewed investigation into 2008 post-election clashes in Yerevan which was ordered by President Serzh Sarkisian late last month.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said some of those witnesses have already given testimony before. It also pledged to interrogate police officers who were involved in the March 2008 deadly clashes with opposition protesters demanding the rerun of a disputed presidential election.
Responding to opposition demands, Sarkisian told law-enforcement authorities on April 20 to investigate the unrest “once again and more meticulously.” He said they should pay particular attention to identifying and punishing those responsible for the deaths of eight protesters and two police servicemen.
The SIS announced the next day a “thorough review” of its controversial inquiry which has until now targeted supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and left many questions unanswered. The agency subordinate to state prosecutors urged Armenians who witnessed those events to provide relevant information to investigators
Vahagn Harutiunian, head of an SIS team investigating the unrest, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that it has decided to expand the circle of eyewitnesses who could shed more light on the unrest. Police officers will be among them, he said.
“The main purpose of these interrogations is …to clarify the circumstances of the deaths,” said Harutiunian. He added that the investigators have not yet decided whether to question Sarkisian, former President Robert Kocharian and Ter-Petrosian.
Harutiunian also did not exclude the participation of international experts in the probe. If there is a need for that, then why not?” he said.
The Armenian authorities have until now described the 2008 violence as an opposition attempt to forcibly seize power, a claim strongly denied by Ter-Petrosian and his Armenian National Congress (HAK). More than a hundred opposition members and supporters were arrested and jailed on highly controversial charges in the wake of the unrest.
Nobody was prosecuted and convicted for the ten deaths. The investigators claim to have been unable to identify police officers who used lethal force on that day. The HAK says this only proves that the authorities deliberately mishandled the probe.
Amid a widespread lack of trust in the official investigation, the authorities agreed later in 2008 to allow a separate, supposedly independent inquiry. It was conducted by a body in which the government and the Armenian opposition had equal representation. The Fact-Finding Group of Experts was disbanded in 2009 due to serious disagreements between its pro-government and opposition members.
Andranik Kocharian, one of the two opposition members, on Monday continued to sound a cautious note over the renewed SIS inquiry. “It’s good that [the investigators] now claim to be getting more active. But that activity must be visible to, first of all, relatives of the victims and our public,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. That is not yet the case, he claimed.