By Karine Kalantarian and Emil Danielyan
Vladimir Nazarian, a prominent lawyer and one of the authors of Armenia’s constitution who has cooperated with the opposition over the past year, was found dead in his Yerevan apartment early on Friday in mysterious circumstances.
A source in the office of prosecutor-general told RFE/RL that Nazarian, 70, committed a suicide by hanging himself in an apparently depressed condition. The source said he left a note which read: “I have lost my scholarly astuteness. Do not blame anybody for my death.”
Members of the Armenian parliament where Nazarian had worked for many years expressed their shock and bewilderment at his alleged suicide. “He is not the kind of person who would commit a suicide,” said Arshak Sadoyan, an outspoken opposition parliamentarian.
“Last time I saw him he looked sad,” said Victor Dallakian, chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs.
Some of Nazarian’s former colleagues likewise claimed that he was uncharacteristically subdued and even depressed in recent months.
The source who preferred to remain anonymous said the prosecutors are convinced that he committed a suicide and will hardly explore other theories.
Nazarian was last year sacked by parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian as long-time head of the National Assembly’s legal service over his growing links with the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) and other opposition groups.
Shortly afterwards he helped them draw up legal grounds for their first attempt to bring impeachment proceedings against President Robert Kocharian. Speaking to RFE/RL in September 2001, Nazarian accused Kocharian of abusing power. He claimed that several presidential decrees signed in the spring of 2000, at the height of a bitter government infighting, were unconstitutional.
One of the decrees involved the simultaneous dismissal of then Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian and Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian who were at odds with Kocharian.
“The law does not give him the right to dismiss the defense minister without the prime minister’s consent,” Nazarian said at the time. “The abuse of power is thus evident.”
The arguments were at the heart of the opposition’s recent, second attempt to impeach Kocharian which again ended in failure. Leaders of the HZhK and 12 other opposition parties making up a loose alliance observed on Friday a minute of silence in honor of Nazarian as they met reporters to outline their further actions.
Leaders of the parliament’s pro-presidential majority also paid tribute to the veteran lawyer’s legacy. Deputy speaker Tigran Torosian praised him as “a person of unique skills.”
Having switched sides on several occasions over the past decade, Nazarian has gained the reputation of a great political survivor. Serving as Soviet Armenia’s prosecutor-general in 1988-1990, he carried out the Kremlin’s orders to arrest and imprison members of the mass movement for Karabakh’s re-unification with Armenia. Levon Ter-Petrosian, independent Armenia’s first president, was among them.
Nazarian cooperated with political forces opposed to Ter-Petrosian and his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) until 1995 when he joined a team of lawyers who drafted the country’s controversial post-Soviet constitution. It was enacted after a disputed referendum.
About that time Nazarian was appointed as the chief lawyer in the parliament’s staff. He became a close adviser of HZhK leader Stepan Demirchian after the latter’s charismatic father, Karen Demirchian, was gunned down in the October 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament.
Nazarian’s last job was with the Armenian Constitutional Court where he worked as an expert on constitutional law.