Hundreds of opposition supporters laid flowers at a square in downtown Yerevan on Friday to mark the fifth anniversary of a bloody post-election unrest that left ten people dead and more than 100 others injured.
The crowd silently walked to the site of the March 1-2, 2008 clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian after a requiem service for the dead held at a nearby church.
Ter-Petrosian, who was the main opposition candidate in the February 2008 presidential election, was conspicuously absent from the commemoration for unclear reasons. His associates downplayed that fact. One of them, Aram Manukian, said there is “nothing extraordinary” about it.
The church service was attended by other leading members of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance as well as Raffi Hovannisian, President Serzh Sarkisian’s main opponent in last week’s presidential ballot. Hovannisian visited the site of the March 2008 protests and paid tribute to their victims together with a large group of his supporters earlier in the day.
The HAK also planned to mark the unrest anniversary with a traditional rally in Yerevan’s Liberty Square. But the bloc cancelled it on the grounds that Hovannisian, who is protesting against the official results of the 2013 ballot with street protests, also scheduled a demonstration there for the same day. Hovannisian afterwards changed his plans and decided to rally supporters in Liberty Square on Saturday.
Hovannisian and his Zharangutyun party endorsed Ter-Petrosian 2008 presidential bid but relations between the two opposition leaders worsened dramatically in the following years. Ter-Petrosian has declared Hovannisian the legitimate winner of the February 19 vote but stopped short of joining his ongoing campaign.
The HAK, meanwhile, renewed its allegations of a high-level cover-up of what was the worst street violence in Armenia’s history. “The issue cannot be removed from the agenda until all those responsible for March killings are brought to justice,” said Nikol Pashinian, a prominent HAK figure who played a major role in the 2008 post-election protests.
The Armenian authorities arrested over 100 Ter-Petrosian allies and supporters in the wake of those protests. Many of them received prison sentences on charges of organizing “mass disturbances” which the HAK considers baseless and politically motivated. All jailed oppositionists, including Pashinian, were gradually set free by June 2011.
Nobody has been prosecuted yet in connection with the deaths of eight opposition protests and two police servicemen. The HAK says the authorities are unwilling to identify and punish those who shot and killed the protesters. Ter-Petrosian’s bloc portrays this as further proof that they deliberately used lethal force to enforce “fraudulent” election results.
The authorities deny this, saying that a criminal investigation into the March 2008 events is still not over. They also maintain that the 2008 protests were part of an opposition conspiracy to forcibly seize power.