By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s Review Court turned down on Thursday appeals from three suspects in the 1999 parliament attack case who received lengthy prison sentences at the end of a protracted trial last month.
One of the suspects, Eduard Grigorian, was among the five gunmen that went on a killing spree in the National Assembly, shooting dead its speaker Karen Demirchian, then Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and six other officials. Grigorian did not carry out any of the killings and claims to have been misled by the leader of the armed group, Nairi Hunanian.
Nevertheless, he as well as Ashot Knyazian, the man who allegedly provided the gunmen with automatic weapons, were sentenced to life imprisonment along with Hunanian and three other defendants. Another suspect, Hamlet Stepanian, got 14 years even though his role in the shock terrorist attack remained unclear. Stepanian too appealed the December 2 verdict handed down by the court of first instance of Yerevan’s Kentron and Nork-Marash districts.
A panel of three judges of the Review Court backed the prosecution’s claims that Grigorian, Knyazian and Stepanian had been aware of the planned “armed coup d’etat” beforehand and were part of the “organized group” that tried to stage it on October 27, 1999.
The defense lawyers, however, argued that it is unfair to slap the same punishment on the assassins and their accomplices. They said they will therefore challenge the ruling at the higher Court of Appeals.
“It’s obvious that no facts or evidence substantiating their verdict were presented. I will therefore file an appeal to the Court of Appeals,” Karo Aghajanian, the lawyer representing Grigorian, told reporters.
Grigorian, who worked as a pediatrician at a Yerevan hospital up until the day of the parliament attack, insists that Hunanian and his younger brother Karen, who jointly carried out all of the murders, had never told him that they will shoot anyone. He says he agreed to take part in the plot because it was supposed to be a bloodless overthrow of Armenia’s “corrupt” government.”
Hunanian insisted throughout the nearly three-year trial that the decision to seize the National Assembly had been taken by himself without anybody’s orders. But many in Armenia believe that the attack was part of a more high-level conspiracy to eliminate the Sarkisian-Demirchian duo just as it was becoming more powerful than President Robert Kocharian.
Neither of the Hunanian brothers appealed against their life sentences despite condemning them as unfair. Some local observers suggest that they did so in order to avoid being affected by a recent change in the Armenian Criminal Code that denies convicts like them the right to eventual parole.
The Armenian opposition, led by relatives of the two assassinated leaders, pushed the amendment through the parliament on November 10 after failing to prevent the complete abolition of the death penalty. However, the amendment was signed into law by Kocharian only on November 26 and came into force after the parliament attack trial was over. Some lawyers say that it is therefore not applicable to the parliament gunmen.