Critics of the prolonged official inquiry into the 1999 shootings in the Armenian parliament will face a tough battle Wednesday when they try to win the assembly's support for their controversial initiative to investigate allegations that the jailed gunmen are manipulated by the authorities. The National Assembly will open debates on whether it should set up a commission looking into the possibility that Nairi Hunanian and other defendants receive "illicit legal counseling" to drag out their ongoing trial.
The debates will represent a major test for the government of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian who has spoken out categorically against the parliament's involvement in the shootings probe. Markarian's Republican Party (HHK) is widely expected to vote the initiative put forward by the People's Party, its increasingly estranged partner in the majority Miasnutyun bloc. Also pushing for its approval is the parliamentary group of the Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans.
The two co-sponsors of the initiative suspect President Robert Kocharian and his allies of trying to hide the truth about the killings of Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and six other officials in the bloody raid. They believe that the assault had been ordered by political foes of the two slain leaders.
Hunanian, however, has insisted in his long court testimony that he and his group acted alone, aiming to end Sarkisian's "dictatorship." But the HZhK and Yerkrapah claim that security officials might have given unauthorized persons access to the gunmen that are kept at the high-security jail of the Armenian national security ministry. The defendants, they say, might have thus been told to mislead the judge and prosecutors.
Under the bill pending debate in the parliament, the ad hoc commission would report to lawmakers by next November on the "legality of activities of law-enforcement bodies guarding the criminals." Members of the commission would enjoy unlimited access to all detention sites in the country.
A senior HHK member, Galust Sahakian, told RFE/RL that the Republicans, who control 25 seats in the legislature are unlikely to vote for the bill. Other parliamentary factions had still to formulate a common stance on the issue as of late Wednesday.