By Hrach Melkumian and Emil Danielyan
Opposition leader Stepan Demirchian said on Monday his family will not reconsider its decision to boycott the trial of his father’s murderers in protest against what he sees as a high-level cover-up of the October 199 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament.
“We do not wish to participate in that farce anymore,” Demirchian told RFE/RL. “It is crystal clear that the objectivity of the investigation has not been ensured. The court is simply carrying out political orders.”
“The decision can be considered final,” he added.
The decision, made by Demirchian, his older brother Samvel and mother Rimma, followed the court’s controversial refusal last to hear more witnesses of the parliament shootings who were originally due to testify at the trial. The judge hearing the case, Samvel Uzunian, accepted prosecutors’ arguments that court testimony given by other witnesses is sufficient for indicting Nairi Hunanian and five other parliament gunmen.
The Demirchian family’s attorney, Ashot Sargsian, said Thursday that he will no longer attend the court hearings which got underway in February 2001. The move was backed by the relatives of another key victim of the parliament massacre, former Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian. However, they refuse to follow suit, a stance reaffirmed on Monday by his brother, Aram Sarkisian.
“We must force the court to be fair because I am deeply convinced that the authorities are forcing the court not to be fair,” he told RFE/RL. “I am therefore inclined to fight to the end.”
Demirchian and Sarkisian are the leaders of Armenia’s largest opposition group, the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance. At the heart of their disaffection with the parliament attack trial is belief that the 1999 shootings were orchestrated by powerful government forces that are now obstructing justice. They and relatives of the victims make no secret of their suspicion that President Robert Kocharian had a hand in the crime, even though Hunanian has said all along that he and his henchmen acted on their own.
Uzunian’s decision to speed up the trial only added to that suspicion. “The course of the trial is proof that there were other organizers of the crime, quite powerful ones,” said Oleg Yunoshev, the Russian lawyer representing the Sarkisian family.
The prosecutors argue that the question of who masterminded the killings is the subject of a separate criminal inquiry which is still going on and that the main objective of the ongoing trial is to punish their perpetrators. Therefore, they say, there is no need to cross-examine the nearly 100 witnesses whom they had earlier told to take the stand.
The victims’ relatives, however, counter that more witness testimony could uncover additional important facts. Yunoshev said he has a list of as many as 300 people who he thinks must be invited to the court for questioning. Among them is Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian who served as minister of national security at the time of the parliament attack.
“Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian are connected with the crime, at least as witnesses,” Yunoshev said. He noted in particular that Kocharian must tell the public more about his overnight surrender negotiations with Hunanian hours after the gunmen went on a shooting spree inside the parliament’s main auditorium.
Meanwhile, the trial entered on Monday a new stage: the examination of evidence collected by the investigation. Uzunian said that he will consider further requests to cross-examine witnesses after the examination is over.