By Armen Zakarian
The recently formed Armenian parliamentary commission tasked with assessing the authorities’ handling of the investigation into the October 1999 assassinations will take its first practical step on Wednesday when it meets with senior law-enforcement officials. The ministers of interior and national security and the prosecutor-general have been invited to discuss its six-month activities.
Twelve lawmakers representing all factions of the National Assembly will seek assurances about their unrestricted access to prisons and detention sites where all suspects, including the five gunmen that carried out the killings, are currently being held. They will also try to ensure that all materials of the politically explosive case are made available by the investigators, if necessary.
The commission was formed on May 23 on the initiative of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) and the Hayastan group -- two leading parliamentary forces highly critical of the course of the ongoing judicial proceedings. It is to report by next November on the "legality of activities of law-enforcement bodies guarding the criminals."
The two groups have implicitly accused law-enforcement agencies loyal to President Robert Kocharian of deliberately botching the inquiry to hide the truth about the shootings which they believe were orchestrated by powerful individuals. They suspect pro-Kocharian ruling circles of secretly instructing Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the jailed assailants currently on trial, to mislead the public and drag out court hearings.
Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and their allies in the parliament brushed aside the allegations but decided not to block creation of the commission. The ad hoc body’s first meetings ended in scandal, with the HZhK and Hayastan protesting election of a pro-government deputy as its chairman.
Tensions eased on Tuesday with the election of an independent legislator, Gagik Kostandian, as deputy chairman. Kostandian, who is a former police officer, said he expects unnamed government officials “whose toes are going to be trodden” to thwart the commission’s activities by exerting pressure on its members. But he said he would not retreat in the face of such hurdles.
“We will carry out detailed inquiries into all aspects of the case, including the pre-trial investigation and the court proceedings, so that the public knows what happened in reality,” Kostandian told RFE/RL.