By Armen Zakarian
In a strongest yet attack on the authorities, the leader of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), Stepan Demirchian, said on Saturday the release of six defendants in the parliament shootings trial amounted to a state “sponsorship of terrorism.”
“This is a disgrace for our state,” Demirchian told RFE/RL, joining a wave of condemnations from relatives and allies of eight officials murdered in the October 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament. “This shows that we live in a state where authorities sponsor terrorism,” he charged.
Demirchian -- whose father, former parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, was among the victims of the massacre -- said he and the HZhK were particularly angered by the court decision to drop criminal proceedings against three of the suspects who prosecutors allege knew about the attack but did not inform the authorities. The three other defendants set free in the courtroom on Wednesday are former police officers who were on guard at the parliament building on the day it was seized by gunmen.
Presiding Judge Samvel Uzunian said the release was part of the recently declared amnesty affecting a third of Armenia’s prison population.
The opposition Hanrapetutyun party, led by former prime minister Aram Sarkisian, claimed in a statement on Thursday that the move was further proof that President Robert Kocharian seeks to “prevent the case from being fully solved” and demanded his resignation. It accused the authorities of manipulating the ongoing trial of the five parliament gunmen and other persons charged with complicity in the killings.
Demirchian said he fully agrees with the “content” of the Hanrapetutyun statement but remained ambiguous about the future of his party’s increasingly shaky alliance with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK). Demirchian, who inherited HZhK leadership from his late father, has repeatedly criticized policies pursued by Markarian’s cabinet but has so far avoid a final break-up with the HHK.
He on Saturday denied press reports that the HZhK might soon form a new bloc with Hanrapetutyun and other opposition parties. “It’s too early to speak about concrete alliances. But that said, we are ready to cooperate with different political forces on specific issues,” he said.