By Emil Danielyan
Political allies of former prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian and other officials killed in the 1999 parliament massacre condemned on Thursday a court decision to pardon six suspects, saying it was another proof that President Robert Kocharian is obstructing justice. The move “finally demonstrated that the authorities…prevent the crime from being fully solved and therefore deepen consequences of the coup d’etat,” the opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party led by Sarkisian’s younger brother and successor, Aram, said in a statement.
Three of the defendants in the ongoing parliament shootings trial were set free in the courtroom on Wednesday under an amnesty recently declared by the parliament. They are former police officers who guarded the parliament building on the day it was seized by five gunmen in a brazen attack that left eight senior officials dead. The three men were arrested and charged with “operational negligence” that allowed the gunmen to smuggle automatic weapons into the chamber.
The three other defendants who allegedly knew about the planned attack but did not inform the authorities also had criminal proceedings stopped against them and will appear in court only as witnesses. They were released from pre-trial detention last year.
In a further toughening of its anti-Kocharian stance, Hanrapetutyun called for the resignation of the current authorities, accusing them of inability to “guarantee the country’s security and future and expedite justice.” “For the sake of the country’s sustainable development, irreversible democratization and establishment of justice, the Hanrapetutyun party considers the formation of new and legitimate authorities imperative,” the strongly-worded statement said.
Hanrapetutyun, which contends that the parliament killings were a coup attempted masterminded by Sarkisian’s foes, claimed that Kocharian has been deliberately spreading a theory whereby the gunmen acted on their own.
Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the jailed gunmen and the principal defendant in the trial, insists that he himself had organized the attack to rid Armenia of its corrupt government. Military prosecutors investigating the crime now do not rule out such a possibility – a major shift from their previous position, according to which Hunanian had powerful backers outside the parliament building.
Hanrapetutyun, which is dominated by members of the Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans, charged that “the investigation and the trial are periodically directed by statements and interference from senior officials.” It accused the pro-government media of unleashing an “obvious propaganda against the memory of Vazgen Sarkisian, Karen Demirchian and the other victims” without citing any concrete examples of that.
Kocharian and his allies have shrugged off similar allegations in the past.
While stressing that several other suspects cleared by investigators last year are members of “the president’s entourage,” the recently formed party stopped short of directly implicating Kocharian in orchestrating the bloodbath.