By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenian deputies rejected Wednesday a proposal to strip Vano Siradeghian, a fellow lawmaker and the fugitive former interior minister, of his parliamentary mandate because of his long absence from the country.
Siradeghian, who fled Armenia in April 2000, is on the run from prosecution on charges of ordering a string of contract killings while in power from 1992-96. The once powerful minister, who was close to former president Levon Ter-Petrossian, and his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) party have dismissed the charges as politically motivated.
The Armenian parliament’s committee on state and legal affairs asked the National Assembly to uphold its formal conclusion that Siradeghian’s failure to attend parliament sessions is “unjustified.” The move would have allowed the Central Election Commission to withdraw his mandate and call a fresh election in his Noyemberian constituency in northern Armenia.
However, results of a secret ballot showed that only 36 members of the 131-member assembly back the idea. Some of the deputies who admitted voting against the motion argued that the authorities led by President Robert Kocharian are playing the Siradeghian card to distract public attention from their own failings.
But parliament leaders denied the speculation. “There have been no political orders,” said Tigran Torosian, the deputy speaker.
The longtime foes of Armenia’s former authorities condemned the decision. “The parliament discredited itself with this vote,” said Armen Rustamian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which was banned by Ter-Petrossian in late 1994.
State prosecutors claim that shortly after his appointment as interior minister in 1992 Siradeghian set up a death squad to eliminate and terrorize opponents of the regime. In July 2000, two members of the alleged gang were sentenced to death, while seven others got jail terms ranging from 4 to 11 years. A month later, eleven former officers of Armenian interior troops were given lengthy sentences after a Yerevan court convicted them of the murder of two men in 1995. The prosecutors say killings were ordered by Siradeghian.
The ex-minister and his supporters have insisted that the prosecutors have failed to prove his guilt.
The Armenian police issued an international arrest warrant for their former boss shortly after his flight. The authorities say that Siradeghian’s whereabouts have been unknown ever since.