The Armenian National Congress (HAK) rallied several hundred supporters in Yerevan on Wednesday to mark the ninth anniversary of a 2008 government crackdown on opposition protesters which left ten people dead.
The crowd gathered in Liberty Square to hear speeches by senior representatives of the party headed by former President Ter-Petrosian and its main ally, the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK). It then marched to another square in the city center that was the scene of vicious clashes between security forces and Ter-Petrosian supporters demanding a rerun of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008.
Thousands of people barricaded themselves there on March 1, 2008 after riot police broke up nonstop demonstrations that were held by Ter-Petrosian and his allies in Liberty Square in protest against alleged vote rigging. Eight protesters and two police servicemen were killed as security forces tried to forcibly end the protest in the following hours.
Ter-Petrosian, who was the main opposition candidate in the 2008 ballot, urged his supporters to disperse early on March 2 shortly after then President Robert Kocharian declared a state of emergency and ordered Armenian army units into Yerevan.
More than a hundred opposition activists and supporters were arrested in the following weeks. Most of them were tried and sentenced on highly controversial charges. Nobody has been prosecuted for the killings, despite law-enforcement authorities’ continuing assurances that they keep trying to identify those directly responsible for the bloodshed.
Speakers at Wednesday’s rally alleged a continuing government cover-up of the violence that marred the handover of power from Kocharian to Serzh Sarkisian. Aram Manukian, an HAK lawmaker, argued that the pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament has repeatedly blocked opposition attempts to launch a thorough parliamentary inquiry into the 2008 unrest.
“Nobody has been held accountable for the killings” said Stepan Demirchian, the HZhK leader. “It’s obvious that they won’t be solved under these authorities.”
Nikol Pashinian, a former Ter-Petrosian ally, blamed Sarkisian and Kocharian for the ten deaths as he laid flowers at the scene of the worst street violence in Armenia’s history together with other leaders of the opposition Yelk alliance earlier on Wednesday. “The perpetrators [of the killings] have not been identified because a resulting chain reaction would expose these two individuals,” he told reporters.
Pashinian, 41, was one of the main speakers at Ter-Petrosian’s 2008 post-election rallies. He went into hiding on March 2, 2008. The former newspaper editor subsequently surrendered to law-enforcement bodies and spent about two years in prison.