By Karine Kalantarian
Ringleader Nairi Hunanian must continue to be kept in the detention center of the Armenian ministry of national security because there is no evidence of his alleged links with the former KGB, the presiding judge in the parliament shootings trial ruled on Monday. The judge, Samvel Uzunian, rejected a petition from relatives of the murdered prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian alleging that Hunanian and the four other jailed gunmen may be manipulated by law-enforcement authorities.
The request was filed by Oleg Yunishev, the Moscow-based lawyer representing interests of the Sarkisian family. Yunishev has argued that the very suspicion about Hunanian having cooperated with the ex-KGB in the past is enough to move him to another prison run by the interior ministry.
The leader of the armed group that seized the Armenian parliament in October 1999 on Monday again denied any ties with the national security ministry which some supporters of the murdered officials suspect of orchestrating the bloodbath. The head of the parliament attack investigation, Chief Military Prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian, claimed last year that the ministry had considered recruiting Hunanian for spying activities abroad. But the current minister of national security, Karlos Petrosian, has denied such intentions.
The lingering suspicion about the agency’s role in the killings was again highlighted on Monday when judge Uzunian agreed to a demand to inspect toilets in the parliament building to determine whether the gunmen or their possible sponsors could have hidden any weapons there ahead of the attack. Hunanian says he and his men went into the rest rooms minutes before the attack in order to assemble and load their Kalashnikov guns.
It was widely agreed until now that the gunmen smuggled their automatic weapons into the parliament on the day of the shootings, taking advantage of poor security in and around the building. But the lawyer for the late Karen Demirchian’s family, who demanded that the toilets be scoured in the presence of the judge, prosecutors and all attorneys, now seems to accept the possibility that the weapons had been stashed there beforehand.