By Karine Kalantarian
The long-running trial of Nairi Hunanian and four other gunmen that stormed the Armenian parliament in October 1999 will resume “very soon” after a nearly three-month pause, its presiding judge, Samvel Uzunian, told RFE/RL on Tuesday.
The two-year court hearings adjourned on January 17 ostensibly due to Uzunian’s illness. The authorities say that he has been suffering from a serious form of pneumonia.
Uzunian said he was recently discharged from hospital and is now recuperating from the illness at home. But he would not specify when he will resume the proceedings.
Supporters and relatives of the top government officials gunned down in the bloodbath insisted on Tuesday that the unusually long delay was politically motivated. They claim that the trial was suspended so that President Robert Kocharian, whom they suspect of masterminding the terrorist attack, can avoid negative publicity in the run-up to the presidential elections.
“We have reason to believe that the trial was delayed for political considerations,” said Suren Sureniants, a senior member of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party led by Aram Sarkisian. The latter’s brother, Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, was the most powerful of the attack victims.
Oleg Yunoshev, the Russian lawyer representing the Sarkisian family at the trial, voiced a similar theory. “One of the possible motives for the trial’s interruption was to hold Nairi Hunanian in check,” he told a news conference in Yerevan.
Yunoshev again claimed a link between the parliament shootings and the December murder of Tigran Naghdalian, the pro-Kocharian head of the state-run Armenian Public Television and Radio. He argues that Naghdalian was a major witness in the case and was eliminated by those who are not interested in its solving.
Yunoshev had alleged late last year that the infamous television footage of Hunanian’s gang breaking into the parliament hall and spraying it with bullets was edited by Naghdalian’s channel before it was made available to law-enforcement bodies. Military prosecutors investigating the crime said at the time that they will look into the claims but have not yet publicized any conclusions.
Yunoshev’s theory was dealt a severe blow last month when a separate team of prosecutors arrested Aram Sarkisian’s second brother, Armen, on charges of commissioning Naghdalian’s killing out of revenge. They say they have sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges. A senior prosecutor running the inquiry, Hector Sardarian, told RFE/RL that it will be completed “within a month.”
Armen Sarkisian and his family, meanwhile, insist that the case is politically motivated and part of Kocharian’s post-election crackdown on the opposition. “By arresting Armen Sarkisian the authorities gave more [security] guarantees to Nairi Hunanian and the other criminals,” Sureniants charged.