Strasbourg Official Suggests New Format for Armenian Unrest Probe

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, proposed a new, compromise format for an independent inquiry into Armenia’s deadly post-election violence during his latest visit to Yerevan, it emerged on Wednesday.

The Armenian authorities have been under pressure from the Council of Europe and other international institutions to allow such an inquiry since the March 1-2 suppression of opposition demonstrations that left at least ten people dead.

The National Assembly formed an ad hoc commission for that purpose last month. However, the country’s main opposition groups have turned down government offers to name representatives to the body, saying that it is dominated by government loyalists and can therefore not be objective.

Citing the opposition boycott, Hammarberg sounded skeptical about the commission’s ability to investigate the March 1 clashes as he wrapped up a three-day visit to Yerevan on Tuesday. He made clear that the Council of Europe will not assign foreign experts to help the commission clarify all circumstances of the violence for the time being.

David Harutiunian, a senior lawmaker heading the Armenian delegation at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, revealed the next day that Hammarberg proposed the creation of a new investigative body that would collect key facts relating to the unrest. The commissioner believes that the parliamentary commission should only make a "political evaluation" based on those facts, he said.

"He suggested that the fact-finding mission be separated from political discussions," Harutiunian told RFE/RL. "The fact-finding group could consist of only apolitical experts who enjoy public trust. Experts who would be chosen by all political forces." That includes the opposition "Popular Movement" of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, he said.

"I think that variant is worth considering," added Harutiunian. "The president of the republic also noted [during his meeting with Hammarberg] that it’s an interesting variant and proposed to continue the search for such a format."

Levon Zurabian, a senior aide to Ter-Petrosian, told RFE/RL that the opposition also supports the idea in principle. "We are ready to participate if we and government representatives are equally represented there," Zurabian said.

The Armenian authorities defend the use of deadly force against opposition supporters who barricaded themselves outside the Yerevan mayor’s office following the break-up of their tent camp in the city’s Liberty Square. They say the protests were part of Ter-Petrosian’s botched coup attempt. Ter-Petrosian and other opposition leaders strongly deny this, saying that the authorities deliberately killed peaceful protesters to enforce official results of what they consider a fraudulent presidential election held on February 19.


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