By Karine Kalantarian
The protracted trial of the five gunmen who stormed the Armenian parliament in October 1999 resumed on Monday after a nearly six-month break attributed by the authorities to the illness of the presiding judge and one of the defendants.
The official explanation for the long delay was again called into question when the defendant in question, Vram Galstian, strongly denied having serious heart problems reported by the Nubarashen prison in Yerevan where he is being kept. An appropriate medical document prepared by the prison administration three months ago was cited by the trial judge, Samvel Uzunian.
Galstian called the document a “lie,” insisting that he has never suffered from a serious illness. He claimed that ever since his arrest on October 28, 1999 he has been regularly and forcibly injected with unknown drugs that have damaged his nervous system.
Galstian and other members of the armed group led by his nephew, former journalist Nairi Hunanian, surrendered to the law-enforcement authorities the day after killing eight senior officials and taking dozens of other hostage in a shock attack on the parliament building. Among the victims were then Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian. Hunanian maintains that he was the main mastermind of the massacre which he says aimed to rid Armenia of government corruption and misrule.
Attorneys representing the Sarkisian and Demirchian families demanded that complete officials records of Galstian’s health condition since arrest be presented to the court. The lawyers have previously questioned the official motives for trial’s interruption in early January, shortly before the start of the presidential election campaign.
Relatives and supporters of the assassinated officials believe that the trial was suspended by President Robert Kocharian to avoid more negative publicity regarding his alleged role in the parliament killings. Many of them still suspect him of masterminding the bloodbath. Adding to that suspicion was an April decision by the Office of Prosecutor-General to take over the continuing criminal investigation into the killings.
The inquiry was previously conducted by Armenian military prosecutors who had arrested and charged a close aide to Kocharian on charges of involvement in the crime in late 1999. The official, Aleksan Harutiunian, was eventually set free for lack of evidence. The military prosecutors, led by Gagik Jahangirian, believe that Hunanian’s gang had powerful sponsors outside the parliament building and continued the inquiry even after the gunmen went on trial in early 2001.