By Hrach Melkumian
Nairi Hunanian, the leader of an armed group that stormed Armenia’s parliament in October 1999, demanded on Wednesday that President Robert Kocharian and two other senior government officials be questioned as witnesses at his ongoing trial.
Predictably, the demand was rejected by the judge hearing the case, Samvel Uzunian, on the grounds that it is “not timely.”
Hunanian argued that Kocharian’s presence in the court would enable him to disprove accusations of high treasons leveled against him and four other perpetrators of the attack that left eight senior officials, including then Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, dead. He said Kocharian should testify that the gunmen “voluntarily” agreed to turn themselves in after holding dozens of parliament deputies and government ministers hostage for 18 hours.
Kocharian personally negotiated with Hunanian the terms of the gunmen’s surrender to the authorities, guaranteeing their security. Also holding negotiations with the ringleader was Aleksan Harutiunian, the then chief of Kocharian’s staff who was subsequently charged with complicity in the parliament killings but later cleared by the investigators. Hunanian demanded that he and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian also be cross-examined in the court.
Incidentally, the idea of a court subpoena was backed by Oleg Yunoshev, a Russian lawyer representing the late Vazgen Sarkisian’s family. Yunoshev said Kocharian should attend the trial to “dispel suspicions” that he was the main mastermind of the parliament bloodbath.
The remark drew an irritated reply from Uzunian who warned the attorney against making far-reaching criminal allegations. “Maybe you yourself would like to testify against the president of the republic,” he told Yunoshev.
Uzunian further refused to reconsider his controversial decision not to subpoena 101 individuals originally listed by the prosecution as witnesses who must testify at the trial. He accepted the prosecutors’ arguments that the 28 other witnesses who have already taken the stand gave sufficient weight to their case against the defendants. But a lawyer for the Demirchian family insisted that more witness accounts could shed light on all circumstances of the parliament attack.
Uzunian, however, agreed on Wednesday to invite only five more witnesses.