Nairi Hunanian, leader of the gunmen who seized the Armenian parliament in October 1999, claimed on Wednesday that he and his henchmen would have gone into hiding after the bloody raid had President Robert Kocharian not guaranteed their safety. Continuing his protracted court testimony,
Hunanian declared that the armed group would have tried to escape to the woods in northern Armenia if he "felt that he [Kocharian] is unable to rule out our murder" by security agents or supporters of the slain officials. The ringleader and Kocharian met in the parliament building on the night from October 27 to 28 as the gunmen held dozens of government members and deputies hostage after killing eight senior officials, including Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian. The two men negotiated terms of the gang's surrender.
Hunanian said the gunmen decided to give themselves up after Kocharian promised them an "objective investigation and open trial." The alternative option, he went on, would be for the gunmen to demand a bus, head for the Georgian border with some of the hostages and then suddenly flee to a nearby mountainous forest.
The parliament attackers were escorted to the detention center of the Armenian ministry of national security on the morning of October 28. They were allowed to keep some of their light weapons and use several hostages as human shields on their way to the former KGB jail.
The 35-year former journalist who is standing trial on murder and terrorism charges told the court in his earlier testimony that the assault on the parliament had been masterminded by himself and that he did not envisage to kill any of the officials.