By Hrach Melkumian
Armenia will risk losing its recently gained membership of the Council of Europe if it puts to death the five gunmen that staged a bloody carnage in its parliament in October 1999, senior officials from the influential pan-European body said on Tuesday. The warning was issued by senior diplomats from the organization’s member governments at the end of a three-day visit aimed at monitoring Armenia’s compliance with its membership commitments.
“In the course of discussions we heard some voices that seemed to indicate that in the case of the trial on the events of October 27 there might be a death penalty,” the head of the delegation, Italian Ambassador Pietro Ago, told a news conference in Yerevan.
“So we stressed very strongly that if there is a sentence that gives the death penalty which is later commutted, that will be bad but not terrible. But if there is an execution, that could precipitate a crisis in relations between the Council of Europe and Armenia, and lead the [Council’s] Parliamentary Assembly to suspend the participation of Armenia.”
Armenia, which has carried out no executions for more than ten years, undertook to remove capital punishment from its criminal code under the terms of its accession to the unofficial club of European democracies last January. However, supporters of eight senior officials killed in the bloodbath demand that the parliament gunmen currently standing trial be sentenced to death and executed. Their view is shared by most of the country’s mainstream political parties. Some top politicians have said that the measure should be portrayed as an “exception” to the international community.
But Ago made it clear that the Strasbourg-based organization, which is at the forefront of a worldwide campaign against capital punishment, would not tolerate such a development. “We passed to the Armenian side the concern of the Council of Europe about possible exception from abolition of the death penalty,” he said.
He further claimed that President Robert Kocharian spoke out against killing Nairi Hunanian and his four henchmen at a meeting with the Council of Europe delegation earlier in the day. “The president said that…he is completely against the death penalty, so it will not be applied under his rule,” he said.
The Italian official leads the so-called “Ago Group” set up this year by the Council’s Committee of Ministers to monitor Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s compliance with their ogligations. The body comprises the ambassadors in Strasbourg of 13 member states, including Turkey.
According to Ago, Armenia is making “good progress” towards fulfilling its Council of Europe commitments, showing a “sincere wish and determination to go forward.”