President Serzh Sarkisian and other top state officials as well as opposition leaders laid lowers at the graves of the late Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and speaker Karen Demirchian amid lingering questions about some circumstances of the shootings.
Armenia - TV footage of the October 27, 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament, Yerevan.
On October 27, 1999 Armenia and the outside world watched in horror television images of five gunmen led by Nairi Hunanian, an obscure former journalist, bursting into the National Assembly and spraying it with bullets with the stated aim of changing what they denounced as a corrupt and undemocratic government. The gunmen, among them Hunanian’s brother and uncle, surrendered to police after overnight negotiations with then President Robert Kocharian. All of them were tried and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2003.
The attack came just five months after Sarkisian’s and Demirchian’s Miasnutyun (Unity) alliance swept to a landslide victory in parliamentary elections. It thrust the Armenian government into serious turmoil, with government factions loyal to the slain officials suspecting Kocharian and then National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian of eliminating increasingly powerful rivals.
Kocharian prevailed in the power struggle by May 2000. Both he and Serzh Sarkisian (no relation to Vazgen) have repeatedly denied any involvement in the shootings, saying that their government foes for moths controlled the criminal inquiry into the attack and never came up with compelling evidence to back up their suspicions.
Hunanian insisted throughout his marathon trial that the decision to seize the National Assembly had been taken by himself without anybody's orders. But many in Armenia believe that he had powerful sponsors outside the parliament building.
Armenia -- President Serzh Sarkisian and Catholicos Garegin II mark the 10th anniversary of a deadly attack on parliament on October 27, 2009.
The main official ceremony to mark the anniversary took place outside the parliament building in Yerevan where a memorial to the attack victims was unveiled in the presence of their relatives, President Sarkisian, government ministers and parliament deputies. They stood silently as Demirchian’s widow Rima accused the authorities of failing to solve the killings in a speech.
“The crime of October 27 is unprecedented in human history with its brutality. It shook the foundations of our statehood. Many things have remained unsolved,” she said, adding: “That crime must be solved in full.”
The widow of another victim, deputy speaker Yuri Bakhshian, complained that the memorial was placed inside the parliament compound and will therefore not be accessible to the public. “They placed it here because there is a sense of guilt,” Anahit Bakhshian, herself a member of parliament from the opposition Zharangutyun party, told RFE/RL.
Demirchian’s son Stepan, who was Kocharian’s main challenger in the 2003 presidential election, also attended the ceremony. “Tens years on, consequences of that unprecedented and brutal crime have not been overcome,” he told RFE/RL at Yerablur military ceremony, where Vazgen Sarkisian was laid to rest, later in the day. “Nothing was done by the authorities to prevent that crime and, conversely, everything was done to cover up the crime.”
“Had it not been for October 27, I’m sure that we would have lived in a totally different country,” added Demirchian.
“The best way to respect the memory of Vazgen Sarkisian and Karen Demirchian is not to unveil statues but to solve the October 27 crime,” scoffed Aram Sarkisian, Vazgen’s younger brother and another prominent opposition figure.
The two men visited Yerablur together with former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, the top leader of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). Ter-Petrosian refused to talk to journalists, saying that they will find answers to their questions in a strongly-worded statement issued by the HAK the previous night.
Armenia -- Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian pays tribute to the victims of October 27, 1999 terrorist attack, Yerevan, 27Oct2009
The opposition alliance described the parliament attack as “the darkest page in Armenian history” that laid the foundation of the country’s existing “criminal-oligarchic” system. It again blamed Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian for the killings, claiming that most Armenians consider them the masterminds of the crime.
“October 27 was a violent seizure of power perpetrated by means of terrorism,” the HAK charged. “Terrorism thus became the regime’s main tool for clinging to power and reproducing itself.”
Ter-Petrosian repeatedly accused the Kocharian-Sarkisian duo of having a hand in the 1999 bloodbath in the run-up to the February 2008 presidential election. “If you vote for Serzh Sarkisian on February 19, you will vote for Nairi Hunanian,” he told voters in one of his numerous campaign speeches. “He who elects Serzh Sarkisian would desecrate the holy graves of Karen Demirchian and Vazgen Sarkisian.”