By Karine Kalantarian
The long-running trial in the in October 1999 terrorist attack on Armenia’s parliament moved closer to its end on Friday as state prosecutors demanded that its five direct perpetrators be sentenced to life imprisonment. They also demanded 14-year and 15-year sentences against two other defendants charged with helping the gunmen assassinate six senior Armenian officials.
In its concluding remarks, the prosecution said that the accusations of terrorism, high treason and murder made against former journalist Nairi Hunanian, his brother Karen and the three other men have been repeatedly proven since start of court proceedings in February 2001.
“The crime was committed by an organized group,” said Armen Harutiunian, one of the prosecutors. “The crime caused grave consequences and was committed in a way dangerous to the public.”
The indictment says that all of the killings were carried out by the two brothers. Nairi is accused of shooting to death parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and his two deputies, while Karen is said to have gunned down the five other officials, including Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian. The charges seem to be confirmed by the harrowing video of the attack broadcast around the world.
Nairi Hunanian said at the time and during subsequent court hearings that the decision to storm the National Assembly was entirely his. He maintains that he wanted to overthrow Armenia’s allegedly corrupt government that “sucked the people’s blood” and install a new one. The brothers claim that they did not originally plan to kill anyone, but that they unleashed a hail of automatic gunfire in the chamber after Sarkisian made threatening gestures.
The prosecutors and the victim’s families dismiss the claims, saying that the massacre was aimed at eliminating the two charismatic leaders of the then ruling Miasnutyun bloc.
But according to Karo Aghajanian, the defense attorney of defendant Eduard Grigorian, the prosecutors failed to submit convincing arguments to back up that theory. “They (Hunanian’s group) were due to enter the National Assembly, demand the government’s resignation and create an interim government,” he said.
The charges leveled against the gunmen would have carried a death sentence under Armenia’s previous, Soviet-era criminal code that was scrapped last April. The new code, enacted under pressure from the Council of Europe, sets life imprisonment as the maximum punishment for crimes.
Its passage was denounced by many relatives and supporters of the assassinated officials who want the assailants to be executed. They are also convinced that Hunanian had acted on the orders of powerful forces interested in regime change in Armenia. Some suspect President Robert Kocharian of masterminding the crime. Kocharian allies have vehemently denied such claims.
The prosecutors’ speech will be followed by concluding remarks of lawyers representing the defendants and the victims’ families.