Representatives of the ruling party and the opposition laid flowers at the graves of the late Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian amid lingering questions about some circumstances of the shootings.
They visited the sites separately, highlighting the division that exists between the government and the opposition in Armenia’s domestic politics today.
On October 27, 1999, five gunmen led by Nairi Hunanian, an obscure former journalist, burst into the National Assembly chamber and sprayed it with bullets with the stated aim of changing what they denounced as a corrupt and undemocratic government.
The gunmen surrendered to police after overnight negotiations with then President Robert Kocharian. All of them were tried and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2003.
Armenia - Terrorist attack on the Armenian Parliament of 27 October, 1999
While Hunanian insisted throughout his marathon trial that the decision to seize the National Assembly had been taken by himself without anybody’s orders, many in Armenia still suspect that he had powerful sponsors outside the parliament building.
Deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) Galust Sahakian, who led his party’s delegation visiting Yerablur, a military cemetery in Yerevan where Vazgen Sarkisian is buried, said he believed the October 27, 1999 crime had been organized by “outside forces”.
“We have no suspicions regarding local forces or individuals,” he added.
HHK lawmaker Hermine Naghdalian, who was wounded in the 1999 attack, denounced attempts to turn the October 27, 1999 issue into a tool for political speculations.
“We need the answer to this question not in order to gain a victory over each other or use it against each other,” she stressed.
Vazgen Sarkisian’s brother Aram Sarkisian, who briefly headed the Armenian government after the parliament attack and now is a prominent member of the opposition, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun) on Wednesday that lingering suspicions about the presence of organizers of the crime cast a shadow on those “who gained from it.”
“To people for whom Vazgen’s absence opened a new door of opportunity,” he said.
In an earlier interview with Azatutyun Sarkisian said that the fact that his brother was killed along with Demirchian and other state officials only shows that “it was an act not directed against a concrete person, but against a system representing power.”
An official ceremony commemorating the anniversary also took place outside the parliament building in Yerevan where a memorial to the attack victims was unveiled last year – on the tenth anniversary of the shootings.
Members of parliamentary factions laid flowers at the memorial.
In his remarks Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamian described the October 27, 1999 crime as “a blow against the backbone of the state.”
Lawmakers attending the parliament session observed a minute’s silence to pay homage to the memory of the victims.
Slain Prime Minister Sarkisian’s mother Greta, brother Armen, the widows of Demirchian and other statesmen killed in the parliament shootout attended the ceremony.
The widow of Yuri Bakhshian, the parliament’s deputy speaker who was killed in the shootings, said that “people who say that the crime has been uncovered discredit the state and cause damage to it.”
“The country was beheaded 11 years ago and for 11 years an atmosphere of impunity has been growing in the country, causing great damage to it,” Anahit Bakhshian, herself a member of parliament from the opposition Zharangutyun party, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun).