By Hrach Melkumian
The family of the late parliament speaker Karen Demirchian has decided to stop participating in the ongoing trial of his assassins in protest against what it believes is a high-level cover-up of the crime, its trial attorney declared on Thursday.
Ashot Sargsian said the decision was made by Demirchian’s widow Rimma and two sons after the court of first instance in central Yerevan refused to reconsider its refusal to hear dozens of more witness of the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament which left the speaker and seven other officials dead. Sargsian walked out of the courtroom demonstratively after making the statement.
“I agree with my clients that this is a farce and that it makes no sense to take part in it,” he told reporters, adding that there are now “insurmountable obstacles” to uncovering the full truth about the parliament massacre.
“We don’t want to legitimize illegalities taking place in the court,” he said.
The judge presiding over the proceedings, Samvel Uzunian, sparked the controversy after agreeing to prosecutors’ request not to cross-examine 101 individuals listed as trial witnesses. The prosecution argued that testimony given by the 28 witnesses questioned so far substantiated their case against the five perpetrators of the attack.
But lawyers representing the victims’ relatives say more witness testimony could shed light on all circumstances of the killings. Uzunian dismissed their arguments on Wednesday, agreeing to question only five more persons. The move was instrumental in the Demirchian family’s decision to boycott further court proceedings.
One of the prosecutors at the trial, Gagik Avetisian, described it as a “short-sighted step.” “I think that it does not stem from the interests of both the trial and his clients,” he said.
The boycott was backed by the widow of one of Demirchian’s two assassinated deputies, Yuri Bakhshian. The family of another key victim, former Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, chose not to join it. Its attorney, Oleg Yunoshev, claimed that his absence from the courtroom could lead to the acquittal of the defendants. But he endorsed the allegations of a cover-up, accusing the authorities of destabilizing the political situation in Armenia.
The allegations were angrily rebutted by Uzunian.
The latest row reflects the belief among the victims’ relatives that the Armenian government is withholding information about the real masterminds of the parliament attack. Sargsian alleged on Thursday that Uzunian is getting orders “from above” to obstruct justice and that the authorities will deliberately botch the continuing separate inquiry into possible organizers of the crime.