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Armenia: Controversial Parliamentary Commission Begins Work

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  • Armenia: Controversial Parliamentary Commission Begins Work

    Trading Markets (press release), CA
    June 27 2008

    Armenia: Controversial Parliamentary Commission Begins Work
    Friday, June 27, 2008; Posted: 01:20 AM

    Jun 27, 2008 (Radio Free Europe Documents and
    Publications/ContentWorks via COMTEX) -- SCL | Quote | Chart | News |
    PowerRating -- On June 16, the pro-government factions within the
    Armenian National Assembly voted unanimously in favor of setting up an
    ad hoc commission to investigate the March 1-2 clashes in Yerevan
    between supporters of defeated presidential candidate Levon
    Ter-Petrossian and security forces that resulted in 10 deaths. The
    conduct of an "independent, transparent, and credible inquiry" into
    the postelection violence was one of the key demands addressed to the
    Armenian authorities by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly
    (PACE) in a resolution adopted in mid-April.

    At its first session later on June 16, the newly established
    commission, which is due to present its findings to the National
    Assembly by October 25, elected Samvel Nikoyan (Republican Party of
    Armenia, HHK) as its chairman. The deputy-chairman's position was
    reserved for a representative from Zharangutiun (Heritage), the sole
    opposition party represented in parliament. The commission was
    initially to include two parliament deputies from each faction and one
    independent deputy, giving a total of at least eight pro-government
    lawmakers and two opposition representatives. But on June 19, it
    decided to invite to participate in its work all political forces that
    received more than 3 percent of the popular vote during the May 2007
    parliamentary elections but less than the minimum 5 percent needed to
    win seats in the National Assembly, and also defeated candidates in
    the February 19 presidential elections, including Ter-Petrossian, or
    their representatives. As of the afternoon of 19 June, seven
    invitations had been sent out, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In
    addition to Ter-Petrossian, the other forces invited were the National
    Accord party of Artashes Geghamian, the United Labor Party of Gurgen
    Arsenian, and the Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) Party of Aram
    Karapetian. Invitations were also sent to former presidential
    candidates Tigran Karapetian, Aram Harutiunian, and Vazgen
    Manukian. Geghamian and Manukian have both named representatives who
    attended a session for the first time on June 24, Noyan Tapan
    reported. The Zharangutiun (Heritage) faction opted out of the June 16
    vote on setting up the commission and was not even present at the
    chamber at the time of voting. Zharangutiun faction member Armen
    Martirosian told RFE/RL the same day that the faction was unlikely to
    participate in the commission's work because "our basic proposals were
    not accepted." Zharangutiun faction secretary Stepan Safarian
    similarly told RFE/RL that "there is a preliminary decision to abstain
    from having any representative in the commission."

    But on June 17, Zharangutiun Chairman Raffi Hovannisian proposed
    Myasnik Malkhasian and Sasun Mikaelian, both of whom are currently
    being held in pretrial detention on charges of organizing mass unrest
    and attempting to seize power stemming from their alleged involvement
    in the March 1 violence, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Both men
    are nominally still members of the HHK parliament faction despite
    having thrown their support behind Ter-Petrossian. Commission Chairman
    Nikoyan rejected that proposal as "insulting" and "not serious," given
    that under the commission's statutes factions may only nominate their
    own members, Noyan Tapan reported on June 18. Speaking to RFE/RL's
    Armenian Service in prison on June 19, Malkhasian and a second
    arrested pro-Ter-Petrossian parliamentarian, Hakob Hakobian, both
    questioned whether the newly formed commission will prove capable of
    conducting an "impartial and objective inquiry" in light of the
    imputed bias of some of its members, including Nikoyan, who Malkhasian
    said has made televised statements exonerating the Armenian
    authorities. "The commission cannot work independently," Malkhasian
    said. "There can be no impartial inquiry because no particular
    investigation is being conducted today in connection with what should
    be the main focus of the investigation -- the people who died. There
    has been no clarification regarding who fired the shots and under what
    circumstances those people died. There should have been an
    investigation concerning the wounded, those who inflicted damage on
    state property. But the investigation today is moving in a different
    direction. They arrest people and after that they try to fabricate
    charges against them." Hakobian for his part expressed regret that the
    ad hoc commission chose not to co-opt the proposed opposition
    parliamentarians. "If the commission wanted to clarify anything, they
    should have been happy to involve Myasnik Malkhasian and Sasun
    Mikaelian in its work. Because both of them were on the ground and did
    not commit any wrongdoing," Hakobian said. The sole nonaligned deputy
    on the commission, Lyova Khachatrian, stepped down on June 24,
    explaining that he did not wish to contribute the widespread negative
    perception of the commission, a perception he feared was reinforced by
    his own friendship with Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian, Noyan
    Tapan reported on June 25. Also on June 17, the same day that it ruled
    to establish the ad hoc commission, the Armenian parliament adopted by
    a vote of 80 votes in favor and four against a statement enumerating
    measures the authorities have taken to fulfill the demands outlined in
    the PACE April resolution, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Those
    demands included the conduct of an independent inquiry into the March
    1 violence; the immediate release of opposition supporters detained in
    the aftermath; and the annulment of legal amendments restricting the
    right to stage public rallies and demonstrations. While up to 70
    opposition supporters remain in pretrial detention, the parliament
    voted in the second reading on June 11 to lift those restrictions. Two
    PACE rapporteurs who visited Armenia on June 16-17 concluded that the
    Armenian authorities were dragging their feet in complying with the
    resolution's requirements. But during a vote late on June 25 during
    its summer session, the PACE declined to discipline Armenia for its
    perceived failure to meet its demands, instead granting the Armenian
    authorities six more months to comply fully with the April resolution,
    RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on June 26. One of the two
    rapporteurs, former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott,
    reasoned that "two months is not enough time to implement all the
    changes for which we've called.... We believe that Armenia is going in
    the right direction, and changes are being made."

    On June 20 between 10,000-30,000 people attended a rally in Yerevan in
    support of Ter-Petrossian, who interpreted that show of support as
    evidence that the population at large does not believe the official
    election results that gave Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian over 52
    percent of the vote compared to 21.5 percent for Ter-Petrossian. It
    was the first opposition mass rally for which the municipal
    authorities granted permission since the restrictions imposed by
    parliament in the wake of the March violence. Addressing that rally,
    Ter-Petrossian again demanded the immediate and unconditional release
    of those of his supporters still in detention as a precondition for
    "dialogue" with the authorities, and for the holding of preterm
    parliamentary and presidential elections in order to restore political
    stability. A follow-up rally is scheduled for July 4.

    by Karine Kalantarian, Ruzanna Khachatrian, and Liz Fuller