By Emil Danielyan
Russia has angrily rejected allegations by a former senior officer of its FSB security service that it had a hand in the October 1999 seizure of the Armenian parliament that left eight officials dead.
The Russian embassy in Yerevan suggested in a statement late Wednesday that Aleksandr Litvinenko, a fugitive FSB colonel, made the allegations at the orders of one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent rivals who also lives in exile.
In a recent interview with an Azerbaijani online publication, Litvinenko, who was granted political asylum in Britain in 2002, claimed that Moscow orchestrated the parliament killings through its GRU military intelligence with the aim of scuttling a peace deal on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenian officials have shrugged off the claims. President Robert Kocharian’s national security adviser, Garnik Isagulian, called them “the product of a sick imagination” in an RFE/RL interview last week.
"Under orders from his 'boss' former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who fled to the UK from criminal charges brought by the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office and who is patronized there by a well-known oligarch, has now made another crazy claim," the Russian embassy said in a clear reference to the London-based Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, a bitter critic of Putin.
The statement described the allegations as an attempt to “undermine the centuries-old relations between the Armenian and Russian people.” “Litvinenko and the like will not succeed in driving a wedge between Russia and Armenia,” it said.
The Armenian parliament was attacked on October 27, 1999 by a group of armed men led by Nairi Hunanian, an obscure former journalist. They sprayed the assembly with bullets in front of TV cameras, killing its speaker Karen Demirchian, Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and six other officials.
The gunmen took dozens of government members and parliamentarians hostage before surrendering to law-enforcement agencies the next morning. They were sentenced to life imprisonment following a lengthy trial in December 2003.
Hunanian insisted throughout the trial that he himself masterminded and carried out the attack to rid Armenia of its “corrupt” government. However, relatives and friends of the assassinated officials believe that the attackers had powerful patrons outside the parliament building.