In four separate lawsuits, the families of all eight civilians and one of the two police servicemen killed at the time petitioned a Yerevan district court to rule that state prosecutors and their Special Investigative Service (SIS) have done very little to identify and punish those directly responsible for the deaths. The plaintiffs also demanded financial compensation for what they see as the SIS’s “inactivity.”
The district court rejected these demands in a series of rulings handed down in May and June. The plaintiffs decided to appeal the rulings.
The higher court rejected the first of those appeals lodged by the families of three unrest victims: Tigran Khachatrian, Armen Farmanian and Gor Kloyan. According to the SIS, they were directly hit and killed by tear gas capsules fired by riot police during pitched battles with opposition protesters on March 1-2, 2008.
The SIS investigators say they have been unable to identify those police officers that mishandled tear gas, a claim strongly disputed by the dead men’s relatives. The latter boycotted the announcement of the widely anticipated decision by the Court of Appeals.
“This is a form of protest,” Khachatrian’s mother, Alla Hovannisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “We didn’t wait for the decision to make sure judge knows that we anticipate yet another unfair ruling.”
Hovannisian and other plaintiffs said they will now appeal to the higher Court of Cassation in order to exhaust all possibilities of legal action in Armenia and then take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. The Strasbourg-based court has already received about 50 suits related to the 2008 clashes and the ensuing government crackdown on the Armenian opposition.
Vahagn Harutiunian, a senior SIS official leading the inquiry into the unrest, insisted that the investigators are still trying to identify and punish those responsible for the fatalities. Speaking to RFE/RL, Harutiunian said their task is seriously complicated by a lack of witnesses willing to come forward.
“People who can somehow assist us, tell us something new have no such desire,” he complained.