Armenia: Crackdown Victims' Families Have Little Hope for Justice
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan's decision to shut down the commission investigating the deaths of the 10 people killed during March 2008 clashes between police and protesters has prompted families of the deceased to fear that those responsible for the deaths will escape punishment.
President Sargsyan ordered the commission's closure on June 6; its members "failed to depart from their political benchmarks and work independently," presidential spokesperson Samvel Farmanian claimed. The commission's findings have since been passed on to an ad hoc parliamentary committee staffed by pro-government members of parliament for further consideration.
Like the opposition, some parents of the victims contend that the government wanted to scuttle the commission out of fear for what it might reveal. The commission's shutdown is a sign of "the authorities' unwillingness to find those responsible for the March 1, 2008 events in Yerevan, and avoid punishing our children's murderers," complained Alla Hovhannisian, the mother of Tigran Kachatrian, a 23-year-old Agricultural Academy student who was killed by a Cheryomukha-7 gas-powered gun during the clash between protesters and police. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The gun, a Russian-made weapon, has been linked to the death of two other individuals as well, according to the prosecutor's office.
There has been no government response to the accusations.
The prosecutor's office has identified four police officers who carried the guns, but stated that it could not pinpoint which officer had fired the gun that killed the three men.
Seda Safarian, a former opposition member of the investigative commission, confirmed to EurasiaNet that the commission spent several months investigating the use of the riot guns. The information gathered clearly indicated that the police officers had intentionally used the weapon against the three people slain, she said.
Azatuhi Manukian, the mother of another of the victims, told EurasiaNet that a forensic physician who asked not to be named told the families that her investigation of the bodies showed that "the weapon was fired straight at the person and that the bullet did not hit him on the rebound."
The three victims' forensic examination documents read only that "the bullet entered the body with considerable kinetic energy."
Forensic physicians in Yerevan contacted by EurasiaNet declined to elaborate about the statement's forensic implications after learning that questions would relate to the March 1, 2008 incident.
The June 19 session of the parliamentary committee looking into the events of March 1 rejected a proposal that the committee discuss the findings about the Cheryomukha-7 guns since only opposition members had signed the commission's report.
Parliamentary committee chairperson Samvel Nikoian, a member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, told EurasiaNet that the results of the investigation are "obviously biased."
"We will study the report. It contains well-elaborated information and deposition records, but they all need to be checked because they are politically biased."
Opposition members of the former investigative commission scoff at Nikoian's assertion. Parliament's ad hoc committee will not use the 2,000 pages of interviews and police interrogations because they "lack the . . . attorneys to understand the importance of the statements contained in the records," claimed Andranik Kocharian, a lawyer by profession. No parliamentarians with a background in law sit on the committee. "They won't understand the significance of this or that document and it will simply be lost."
With a membership entirely made up of parliamentarians from Armenia's ruling coalition -- the Republican Party, the Prosperous Armenia Party and the Rule of Law Party -- chances are slim that the committee will use the documents "even if they do understand them," Kocharian added.
Meanwhile, parents of the victims say they have lost trust in anyone within Armenia connected to the investigation into the events of March 1. Some say they want to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg -- a statement that occurs frequently in civil rights or human rights disputes throughout the South Caucasus.
At a June 17 meeting, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) co-rapporteurs expressed sympathy for the families' plights but stressed the necessity to let the parliamentary commission finish its work; a position included in a June 24 PACE resolution.
After more than a year of waiting, however, the diplomatic approach carries little weight with grieving families.
"We have no more hope that the cases will be solved in our country, but we won't let anyone kill our children and go on to enjoy life," commented Sargis Kloyan, the father of 28-year-old Gor Kloyan, an election monitor for Serzh Sargsyan's campaign and one of the three people killed by a Cheryomukha-7 gun. "The guilty must be punished."
Gayane Abrahamyan is a reporter for ArmeniaNow.com in Yerevan.
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