The trial began in Yerevan on Thursday of a man prosecuted in connection with last May’s mass explosions of balloons during an election campaign gathering held by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
Serob Bozoyan, a 54-year-old resident of Yerevan, is facing heavy fines and up to five years in prison on charges of manufacturing and selling goods not meeting safety standards.
Hundreds and possibly thousands of gas balloons exploded at the HHK event organized in Yerevan’s main Republic Square on May 4, two days before parliamentary elections. More than 150 people, most of them young HHK supporters, were hospitalized with serious burns caused by the massive firewall. Some of them underwent plastic surgery afterwards.
Several dozen victims, many of them still wearing bandages, attended the opening session of the trial at a district court in the capital. The hearing adjourned until September 14 because of the defendant’s absence.
Most of the youths present in the courtroom declined to comment on the case. But some agreed to talk to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), questioning the objectivity of the criminal investigation into the shock blasts.
“It was hardly one man’s fault,” one young woman said. “But I can’t say who else is guilty because I simply don’t know.”
“I don’t think that only [Bozoyan] is guilty,” agreed another victim. “There were definitely other persons involved. We won’t know their names.”
“Many people are responsible for what happened,” she added. “Nothing will change if he is convicted.”
Police investigators say that the white balloons emblazoned with HHK logos were filled with inflammable natural gas by several individuals at a single Yerevan apartment. Bozoyan was allegedly one of them.
No criminal charges have been leveled against other persons and, in particular, the organizers of the event that featured live performances by Armenian pop singers and a speech by President Serzh Sarkisian.
Safety standards normally require balloons used for public events attended by a large number of people to be filled with helium, an inert gas that does not burn but is more expensive than natural gas. HHK officials have dismissed suggestions that the ruling party deliberately ordered cheaper balloons to economize on campaign expenses. Accordingly, they have denied the HHK’s responsibility for the explosions.