President Robert harshly criticized on Wednesday Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, for questioning the use of lethal force against thousands of opposition supporters who took to the streets of Yerevan at the weekend.
In a report released on Monday, Harutiunian said Saturday’s deadly clashes between security forces and protesters may have been the result of a violent break-up earlier in the day of the peaceful opposition sit-in in the city’s Liberty Square.
The Armenian police say Ter-Petrosian and his most ardent supporters who were camped in the square more 11 days hoarded weapons, ammunition and even drugs and had to be dispersed.
Harutiunian wondered whether riot police tried to search the square or issued a warning to the protesters before using force. He said the much bigger crowd that barricaded itself elsewhere in central Yerevan and clashed with riot police hours later was not necessarily controlled by opposition leaders.
“After all, what was the reason for the demonstrators’ disagreement with both law-enforcers and representatives of Levon Ter-Petrosian’s campaign team?” he asked. “Maybe the reason for that was the events that took place in the morning.”
The ombudsman also condemned the state-controlled electronic media for presenting only the official version of events. “Why aren’t they discussing possible illegalities committed by representatives of law-enforcement bodies and the issue of holding them accountable?” he said.
A spokeswoman for Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, Sona Truzian, insisted on Wednesday that security forces that confronted the opposition crowd on Saturday night did not fire at protesters and themselves came under fire. But she could not explain just how at least seven protesters died in the standoff, saying only that circumstances of their deaths are being “meticulously” examined by law-enforcement authorities.
Kocharian was clearly angered by the ombudsman’s report, telling journalists that Harutiunian is tarnishing Armenia’s image broad and “does not understand what he is talking about.” He said every state official must remember that they “work for Armenia and not for Strasbourg.”
Harutiunian had worked as a legal adviser to Kocharian before being elected as human rights ombudsman by the National Assembly two years ago. Kocharian himself nominated his candidacy for the job. The outgoing president said on Wednesday that he now considers the nomination to be the “most unsuccessful” of his personnel decisions.