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