By Armen Zakarian
The jailed uncle of the two gunmen who shot dead eight senior officials in October 1999 did not know that their shock raid on the Armenian parliament will lead to bloodshed, a Yerevan court was told on Monday.
Vram Galstian, a member of the armed group led by his nephew Nairi Hunanian, claimed that the attack was supposed to be a bloodless coup d’etat backed by a popular revolt. He said he learned about the plot only the day before the shootings, which left then prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian, parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and six other officials dead.
All of the victims were gunned down by Hunanian and his brother Karen. They and three other members of the gang have been standing trial for just over a year.
Galstian’s court testimony was similar to one given by fellow defendants Derenik Bejanian and Eduard Grigorian last January. They both have said that the armed group had no agreed plans to kill any of the officials attending the government’s weekly question-and-answer session in the parliament on October 27, 1999.
The Hunanian brothers have claimed in court that they did not intend to kill anyone and opened fire only after feeling a danger to their life. The jailed ringleader insists that Sarkisian, the first victim of the carnage, “made threatening moves” in their directions.
Film of the attack, broadcast worldwide, shows that the opening shots were fired at Sarkisian by Karen Hunanian only seconds after the gunmen quietly entered the main parliament hall.
Galstian, a subsistence farmer from a village in central Armenia, said at the start of his cross-examination that by the time he entered the hall the shootings were over. The two other gunmen joined the three men several minutes later.
“I told Nairi and Karen: ‘What the hell have you guys done?’,” the uncle said.
Galstian further told the court that Nairi Hunanian had promised his henchmen to rally a crowd of sympathizers before storming the National Assembly. He said he was so confident about the success of Hunanian’s coup that he made some arrangements in Yerevan on October 26 about sales of his agricultural produce.
Hunanian insists that he was the sole mastermind of the parliament attack. The 36-year-old former journalist says he wanted to oust a government which he holds responsible for Armenia’s economic woes.