By Karine Kalantarian
A special parliamentary commission investigating the bloody aftermath of Armenia’s last presidential election has asked the National Assembly to extend its mandate by two months to allow for a Western-backed change in the format of the probe.
The commission dominated by pro-government lawmakers was formed earlier this year as the Armenian authorities faced strong international pressure to allow an independent investigation into the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces. An opposition of the ad hoc body led the Council of Europe and other international bodies to question its ability to paint an objective picture of the post-election unrest that left ten people dead and more than 100 others wounded.
The Armenian authorities recently accepted a Council of Europe proposal to set up a smaller and more independent body tasked with collecting information that would shed more light on the causes and circumstances of the worst street violence in the country’s history. The parliamentary commission, which was supposed to finish its work by the end of this month, would then assess those facts in its final report.
Artyusha Shahbazian, a parliament deputy from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation sitting on the commission, said on Monday that it expects the National Assembly to give it at least two more months to accomplish its mission. He said that fact-finding group needs that time to conduct an in-depth probe of the unrest.
“The fact-finding group must be able to … have access to all the documents and facts relating those events,” Shahbazian told reporters.
According to Shahbazian and other officials, the group will be set up by President Serzh Sarkisian and will comprise two representatives of the governing coalition, two representatives of the opposition as well as an expert from the office of human rights ombudsman Armen Harutiunian.
The Armenian authorities say they have also asked foreign governments and international organizers to name their representatives to the body. Shahbazian said only the U.S. government has responded to the request so far.
Three American experts, who participated in an independent inquiry into the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, already visited Yerevan last week to advise Armenian officials on how to conduct the fresh probe. The U.S. embassy in Armenia made clear that they “will not directly assist in any inquiry or investigation.”
(Photolur photo: Commission members pictured during a meeting.)