Armenia Constitutional Court rejects opposition suit
Outgoing President Robert Kocharyan declared a state of emergency in Yerevan on March 1 after eight people were killed in clashes between police and protesters who said the election was fixed to deny the opposition a victory.
President-elect Serzh Sarksyan, who won 53 percent of the vote, defended the emergency laws as necessary. His rival, former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, who won 21.5 percent, filed a suit to the Constitutional Court.
The Court confirmed there were violations during the vote and asked prosecutors to investigate. The Court said in a statement the violations did not provide enough evidence to question the election result. (Reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchan, writing by Gleb Bryanski).
Armenian leaders are now casting the March 1 bloodshed in Yerevan as the product of an international conspiracy that sought the revolutionary overthrow of the existing political order.
Speaking at a March 7 news conference in Yerevan, Armenian Prosecutor-General Agvan Ovsepian asserted that “conspiratorial foreign forces” played a role in initiating the armed clashes between anti-government demonstrators and state security forces that left at least eight people dead. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. “Many factors related to the [March 1] events … provide a basis for such a conclusion,” Ovsepian added, according to an account published by the Russian daily Izvestiya.
Meanwhile, in an interview published by Rosssiiskaya Gazeta on March 7, Serzh Sarkisian -- Armenia’s prime minister, and, according to the official results of the February 19 election, outgoing President Robert Kocharian’s successor -- claimed that the anti-government protesters were intent on toppling the government. “It’s fair to say that an attempt to organize a ‘color revolution’ in Armenia really took place,” Sarkisian insisted.
Overall, 350 individuals have been interrogated in connection with a criminal probe being carried out by officials, Ovsepian said. So far, 53 individuals have been formally charged in connection with the March 1 violence. Another 16 have been detained and are under suspicion of wrongdoing, Ovsepian added.
Meanwhile, two members of parliament, Sasson Mikaelian and Khachatur Sukisian, have apparently gone into hiding, Ovsepian announced. The two, who are suspected of playing a role in organizing the anti-government protests, were recently stripped of their parliamentary immunity.
The government version is contradicted by eyewitness accounts of the March 1 events. Participants in the anti-government protests insist that security forces opened fire on a largely unarmed crowd. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In addition, the preliminary findings of Armenia’s ombudsman have indicated that the Kocharian administration initiated the sequence of events that led directly to the bloodshed. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
State of emergency restrictions have hampered the ability of independent news organizations, both inside and outside Armenia, to gather information, thereby hindering the ability to verify the competing versions of events. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The United States and key members of the European Union have not challenged the Kocharian administration’s handling of the crisis, even though as part of its all-out effort to stifle a free press, the Armenian government pulled the plug on Armenian-language broadcasts of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In a March 7 editorial titled “Dark Days in Armenia,” the New York Times called on President George W. Bush, along with European leaders, to “make clear to Armenia’s government that such behavior is unacceptable and will jeopardize future relations.” A clear signal of disapproval is needed in order to halt what the editorial described as a “slide into authoritarianism” by CIS states.
Amid the relative silence of the United States and EU, Armenian authorities have started to vigorously attack the few Western officials who have gone on record as criticizing the Armenian government’s behavior. One such official is Terry Davis, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, who on March 3 called for a quick end to the state of emergency. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Without referring to Davis or other critics by name, Victor Sogomonian, Kocharian's press secretary, pointedly told outsiders to, in effect, mind their own business. “We must clearly realize that it is not foreign officials, but rather [Armenian] authorities that are in charge of the republic’s security,” Sogomonian said.
Armenia, Azerbaijan Urged To Honor Karabakh Truce
International mediators urged Armenia and Azerbaijan late Friday to respect the ceasefire in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and accept a framework peace accord put forward by the OSCE Minsk Group.
In a joint statement, the group’s French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs said the conflicting parties should “restore confidence along the Line of Contact and desist from any further confrontations, escalation of violence or warmongering rhetoric.”
The statement was prompted by this week’s deadly skirmishes in a section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontline northeast of Karabakh. The parties made conflicting casualty claims and blamed each other for the worst ceasefire violation in years. The Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair, Matthew Bryza, discussed the incident during a visit to Baku and Yerevan this week.
The Armenian side said Azerbaijani forces tried to capitalize on the post-election unrest in Yerevan by attacking Karabakh Armenian army positions. Official Baku strongly denied this, saying that Armenia’s embattled leaders themselves provoked the fighting to “distract” the domestic public and the international community from their bloody crackdown on the Armenian opposition.
“As of today, the ceasefire has been restored and the situation on the Line of Contact is calm,” the mediating troika said. “The Co-Chairs call upon both Sides to strictly abide by the provisions of the Arrangement on strengthening the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict of February 4, 1995.
“The Co-Chairs reiterate that there is no military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The outbreak of hostilities would destabilize the entire region, with calamitous consequences for all involved.”
The co-chairs further called Baku and Yerevan to “redouble their efforts to endorse the Basic Principles for the peaceful resolution of the conflict presented to the sides on the margins of the Madrid OSCE Ministerial in November 2007, and to begin as soon as possible the process of drafting a peace agreement on this basis.”
The framework peace deal calls for a gradual resolution of the Karabakh conflict that would indefinitely delay agreement on the disputed territory’s status, the main bone of contention. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and his outgoing Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, are understood to have already agreed on its key points.