In an about-face condemned by the opposition, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) blocked on Monday the launch a new parliamentary inquiry into the 2008 deadly post-election violence in Yerevan.
The HHK majority in the National Assembly thwarted the passage of a corresponding bill drafted by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) just weeks after reaching an agreement on the issue with the HAK and other opposition forces.
The HAK demanded last fall the creation of an ad hoc parliamentary commission that would thoroughly investigate the March 1-2, 2008 street clashes between security forces and opposition protests, which left ten people dead. Parliament majority leaders said they will back the new probe if the HAK agrees to postpone its launch until after the February 2013 presidential ballot.
The HAK accepted this and several other conditions set by President Serzh Sarkisian’s party, leading the parliament’s committee on legal affairs to unanimously approve the opposition bill on March 14. The HHK toughened its position in the following weeks, however, saying that the commission must not be empowered to question senior law-enforcement officials involved in the official criminal investigation into the deadly unrest.
“They assured us in the beginning, at the level of the National Assembly speaker and at a plenary session, that they are in favor of forming that commission,” said Gagik Jahangirian, an HAK lawmaker who drafted the bill. “What made them change their position? I think that the worries of law-enforcement bodies and officials were transferred to the National Assembly through the executive branch. They confined the parliament majority into some bounds, as a result of which that [HHK] position changed.”
Galust Sahakian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, dismissed the criticism, saying that investigators are not legally obliged to answer lawmakers’ questions and could have rebuffed and thus embarrassed the would-be commission. Jahangirian dismissed this explanation, saying that the commission demanded by the HAK would not have more powers than a similar body that was set up by the HHK majority in late 2008.
That parliamentary commission, boycotted by the opposition, concluded in September 2009 that the use of force against supporters of HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, who barricaded themselves in downtown Yerevan, was “by and large legitimate and adequate.” It said that there were only isolated instances of excessive force used by security forces.
The HAK shrugged off this conclusion at the time, saying that it is part of a government cover-up of what was the worst street violence in Armenia’s history.
The Armenian authorities say that the violence resulted from Ter-Petrosian’s attempt to forcibly seize power in the wake of the February 2008 presidential election in which he was the main opposition candidate. Ter-Petrosian and his associates insist, however, that the authorities deliberately used lethal force to enforce the results of blatant vote rigging.