By Karine Kalantarian
The principal defendant in the Armenian parliament shootings trial finished his protracted court testimony on Tuesday, renewing demands for an official inquiry into his alleged mistreatment in custody and again justifying the massacre he and four other gunmen perpetrated in October 1999.
The move marked the end of a nearly two-month monologue in which Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the armed group, sought to defend the bloody raid which left eight people, including Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, dead. Hunanian claimed that the attack was an "act of defense" taken in the name of ordinary people impoverished by failed reforms and government corruption. He gave another detailed account of the dire socioeconomic situation in Armenia, saying that the slain prime
minister was responsible for mass poverty.
Hunanian's testimony will have to be read out by court officials to five other key defendants barred from attending the proceedings. The presiding judge, Samvel Uzunian, ordered them out of the courthouse in February on the grounds that their presence could deter Hunanian from disclosing all details of the crime.
Relatives and supporters of the murdered officials have implicitly accused governing circles close to President Robert Kocharian of secretly instructing the jailed gunmen to drag out the proceedings and mislead the public. The Armenian parliament last week voted to form a commission to investigate the allegations of obstruction of justice. The decision was made at the urging of the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) founded by the late Demirchian.
The HZhK and other slain leaders believe that the parliament shootings were orchestrated by other, more influential forces that might be linked to the authorities. State prosecutors investigating the case supported this theory throughout last year but now admit the possibility that the gunmen acted on their own.
Hunanian has repeatedly told the court that the decision to storm the
parliament was entirely his. He has said he was tortured by the
investigators into implicating officials close to Kocharian in the killings, a charge denied by the prosecution.