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By Karine Kalantarian
The October 1999 seizure on the Armenian parliament was specifically aimed at overthrowing the government of then powerful Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, rather causing a broader regime change, its main perpetrator claimed Monday.

Nairi Hunanian, the unrepentant man who led four other gunmen into the bloody attack, said he only sought to force Sarkisian’s cabinet into resignation and install a new one in its place as he began making his final case at his marathon trial. He reiterated his claims that the shootings, which left Sarkisian and seven other officials dead, can not be deemed a terrorist act because they reflected the people’s wishes.

“My goal was to achieve the prime minister’s resignation and form a new government,” he told a district court of first instance in Yerevan. “The brutal regime that seized power with force had to be countered with force so that the people could budge and at last regain their right to be the masters of their fate.”

The court session adjourned shortly after the start of Hunanian’s written speech. The courtroom was packed by government officials, parliamentarians, journalists and other persons for the first time in many months -- a stark indication of the importance many attach to the ringleader’s closing arguments.

Relatives of the assassinated officials hope that he will finally name the true masterminds of the killings which they believe were the result of a conspiracy to prevent Sarkisian and his popular ally, parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, from becoming the country’s most powerful men. Hunanian’s implicit claim that he did not plot to topple Kocharian could only add to their suspicion that the Armenian president had a hand in the tragedy.

The two assassinated leaders swept to power after their Miasnutyun (Unity) alliance won a landslide victory in the May 1999 parliamentary elections. The legitimacy of their win was largely recognized by their political opponents, making the vote one of the cleanest in post-Soviet Armenia’s history. The ambitious Sarkisian was seen at the time as Armenia’s most likely next president.

Hunanian is due to continue his final testimony on Tuesday.
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