By Armen Zakarian
Official ceremonies marked on Wednesday the 70th birthday anniversary of Karen Demirchian, Armenia’s former parliament speaker and Soviet-era leader assassinated in October 1999.
The country’s entire leadership, including President Robert Kocharian, was present at a remembrance ceremony in Yerevan’s biggest concert hall named after Demirchian shortly after his violent death in the bloody attack on the parliament.
The popular ex-speaker, who ruled Soviet Armenia from 1974-88, was shot dead by gunmen along with then prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian and six other officials. Demirchian and Sarkisian co-headed the Miasnutyun bloc which swept to a landslide victory in the May 1999 elections and took most power reins.
The government-sponsored ceremonies were overshadowed by the continuing political fallout from the shock killings. Some of the victims’ relatives and friends still suspect Kocharian of masterminding the massacre.
Demirchian’s younger son Stepan, who leads the opposition People’s Party (HZhK), is increasingly critical of the Kocharian government. So is the late prime minister’s brother and successor, Aram Sarkisian.
Kocharian on Wednesday avoided contact with members of the Demirchian family. Nor was he present at a ceremony earlier in the day at Demirchian’s grave inundated by flowers and wreaths.
Demirchian was Kocharian’s main challenger in the disputed 1998 presidential election. He never recognized official results of the vote which gave the victory to the latter.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian paid tribute to the late speaker’s political legacy and “devotion to the homeland.” “The October 1999 killings pushed many things back,” he said.
The head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, said the former Communist leader left an “immortal record and memory.”