By Karine Kalantarian and Emil Danielyan
Gagik Jahangirian, Armenia's chief military prosecutor heading the criminal investigation into the 1999 shootings in the parliament, repeatedly implicated President Robert Kocharian in the massacre, his former political allies and current critics insisted Friday. Leaders of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party, who used to hold senior government posts and supported the initial course of the inquiry, claimed that Jahangirian believed in the hypothesis that the killings had been masterminded by Kocharian and his allies.
"The military prosecutor is the one who, at least in my presence, repeatedly asserted that they were behind it," Hanrapetutyun chairman Albert Bazeyan told a news conference.
The remarks followed Jahangirian's statement last week effectively denying claims that he was looking for a link between the president and the gunmen, who shot dead Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and six other officials, during the first six months of the probe.
The controversial prosecutor had at the time close links with the now defunct Miasnutyun (Unity) bloc founded by the two slain leaders. In March 2000 the bloc issued a statement demanding the sacking of the then head of Kocharian's staff, Serzh Sarkisian, on the grounds that he obstructs the inquiry. Miasnutyun leaders, including Vazgen Sarkisian's brother and successor Aram, said afterwards that the statement was made at the behest of Jahangirian.
The investigators were widely believed to suspect Kocharian of orchestrating the parliament attack after they arrested in late 1999 a close presidential confidant and charged him with helping the gunmen carry out the assault. The strong suspicion about the president's involvement in the shock crime was the root cause of the seven-month power struggle between pro-Miasnutyun and pro-Kocharian governing circles.
The infighting ended in May 2000 in victory for Kocharian. The once formidable bloc has since split in two parts, one of them becoming loyal to the head of state and the other still indirectly accusing him of involvement. The latter includes Hanrapetutyun and the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) headed by the late Demirchian's younger son, Stepan. Demirchian Jr. has repeatedly accused the current authorities of "harboring terrorists."
The two parties last month launched a nationwide campaign for Kocharian's impeachment together with another major opposition group called National Unity. The perceived failure of the parliament attack inquiry is high in their list of accusations. They claim that Jahangirian stopped looking for the truth about the October 1999 tragedy after Kocharian's victory in the power struggle.
But supporters of the country's present leadership counter that the investigators have simply failed to collect evidence proving that the killings were the work of Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian. The investigators, who were convinced that the gunmen had powerful backers outside the parliament building, now accept the possibility that they acted on their own.