The use of lethal force against opposition protesters during the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan was justified, Armenian law-enforcement authorities insisted on Tuesday following a fresh investigation that was ordered by President Serzh Sarkisian.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said that the deadly violence was sparked by opposition “rioters” and that security forces were therefore right to open fire on them. In an extensive report, the SIS failed to shed more light on the deaths of eight supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian on March 1-2, 2008.
The report came about eight months after Sarkisian instructed the law-enforcement body to conduct a “more meticulous” investigation into the worst street violence in Armenia’s history. Responding to pressure from Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK), the president said it should specifically try to identify those responsible for the civilian deaths.
The SIS report contains no revelations in that regard. It stands by the investigators’ earlier assertions that three of the civilian victims were directly hit by tear gas bullets fired by police forces and that it is not possible to identify those police officers who mishandled the riot weapons.
The report details circumstances in which the five other opposition protesters demanding a rerun of the disputed February 2008 presidential election were killed. It says that the Armenian police and other law-enforcement bodies “have been given instructions to identify and track down the guilty.”
More importantly, the SIS reaffirmed the official line that the first gunshots on that night were fired by Ter-Petrosian supporters who barricaded themselves in downtown Yerevan on March 1, 2008. Security forces only sought to “rein in the crowd” and prevent “armed attacks,” it says.
The SIS report argues that an interior troops captain, Hamlet Tadevosian, was the first casualty of the “mass riots.” It says that opposition protesters were also responsible for the death of another police serviceman, the 19-year-old Tigran Abgarian.
Not surprisingly, Andranik Kocharian, a well-known opposition figure representing the HAK, denounced the SIS claims. “With this report they have portrayed the victims as criminals,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“They have taken no step towards solving the killings,” Kocharian said. “This is just an imitation [of investigation.]”