By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia marked on Saturday the second anniversary of the bloody raid on its parliament amid renewed political tensions between the authorities and many close associates of eight senior officials assassinated on October 27, 1999.
In a vivid indication of their deepening mutual antagonism, the two sides made sure they avoid any encounters while paying their respects to the most prominent of the victims, former prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian. Visits to their graves by President Robert Kocharian and his opponents were timed not to coincide.
The somber ceremonies came amid a dominant feeling that law-enforcement agencies have failed to solve the crime which had a profound impact on political developments of the past two years. The five gunmen, who burst into the parliament two years ago killing Demirchian, Sarkisian and six other officials, went on trial in February on charges of terrorism and an attempt to stage a coup d’etat. They insist that the decision to storm the National Assembly was entirely theirs.
But friends and relatives of the murdered officials believe that the gang led by former journalist Nairi Hunanian had powerful patrons outside the parliament building. Some of them suspect that the massacre was masterminded by Kocharian who had effectively lost some of his powers since Sarkisian became prime minister in June 1999. The ex-premier’s brother, Aram, and Demirchian’s son, Stepan, are key figures in an alliance of three opposition parties campaigning for Kocharian’s ouster.
The opposition parties marked the second anniversary of the shootings on Friday with a mass rally in Yerevan. They repeated their allegations that the authorities are obstructing the parliament attack investigation but again stopped short of directly implicating Kocharian in the killings.
The Armenian leader has harshly criticized his opponents, rejecting their demands for his resignation. Many of them held senior government posts until their defeat in May 2000 in a bitter power struggle with Kocharian. The president and his supporters claim they are exploiting the October 27 tragedy in a bid to return to power.
A senior pro-government member of the parliament, Victor Dallakian, on Saturday urged Kocharian soften is tough stance on the opposition as he visited the Yerablur military cemetery in Yerevan where Vazgen Sarkisian was laid to rest. “The opposition represents a segment of the population which must not be ignored or scorned,” Dallakian told RFE/RL.
But military police chief Vladimir Gasparian, one of the late Sarkisian’s comrades-in-arms who backed Kocharian in the post-assassination government infighting, admitted there is now a deep divide between the two rival camps. “Of course, it’s really bad that we are not standing together today,” he said at Yerablur.