Deputy parliament speaker Samvel Nikoyan also acknowledged that Armenians may never know the full truth about the March 1-2, 2008 clashes between security forces and opposition protesters that left ten people dead.
Nikoyan thus largely agreed with a conclusion drawn by a senior U.S. diplomat in a leaked cable sent to Washington in April 2008 and publicized by WikiLeaks late last week.
“It's probably safe to say that neither the Armenian public nor the international community will ever know the full truth behind the bloody March 1-2 clashes,” Joseph Pennington, the then U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, told the State Department in that letter.
“Until the authorities provide an independent, transparent explanation to Armenia's citizenry describing what really transpired in the dark hours of March 1-2, the infamy of the events will dog the ruling regime and risk undermining its legitimacy,” Pennington wrote.
Commenting on this assertion, Nikoyan said, “If he referred to the circumstances of the deaths, then maybe he is right.”
“Of course, those statements may be a bit exaggerated and tough, but that reflected the atmosphere which existed at the time,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Armenian authorities arrested and prosecuted more than 100 opposition members in the wake of the unrest sparked by their handling of the disputed February 2008 presidential election. None of those detainees or any law-enforcement officers were held directly responsible for the deaths of eight protesters and two security personnel.
The authorities say that the violence was part of a coup plot hatched by Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition candidate who served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998. Ter-Petrosian and his supporters strongly deny that, saying that the authorities deliberately used lethal force to enforce official vote results.
Last April, President Serzh Sarkisian instructed Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) to conduct a “more meticulous” investigation before initiating a general amnesty that resulted in the release of the last Ter-Petrosian loyalists remaining in jail.
An SIS team handling the case has since questioned over 200 witnesses. It says none of them provided significant information shedding more light on the worst street violence in the country’s history.
Nikoyan, who headed an ad hoc commission of the Armenian parliament that investigated the unrest, said he is pessimistic about the renewed probe because the SIS investigators appealed to the public for such information.
“They got in the same whirlwind in which I had found myself,” said the senior member of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). “That is, with documents at my disposal it was not possible to arrive at any substantiated conclusion.”
“When the investigating body took the same step, I no longer had great expectations because I had already followed that path,” he said.
Nikoyan also dismissed opposition claims that the March 2008 killings have still not been solved because of a government cover-up. “Blaming is the opposition’s job,” he said.
In a 138-page report submitted to the National Assembly in September 2009, Nikoyan’s commission boycotted by opposition lawmakers concluded that the break-up of Ter-Petrosian’s postelection demonstrations was “by and large legitimate and adequate.” It claimed that there were only isolated instances of excessive force used by law-enforcement officers.