By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia commemorated on Monday the 4th anniversary of the bloody seizure of its parliament with separate low-key ceremonies led by government leaders and relatives of the eight assassinated officials, underscoring deep divisions left by the attack.
As always, the remembrance centered on the graves of the most prominent victims, Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, where flowers and wreaths were laid throughout the day. President Robert Kocharian avoided visiting them for the second consecutive year, sending instead wreaths to the Yerablur Military Cemetery and the Komitas Pantheon where the two charismatic founders of the now defunct Miasnutyun bloc were laid to rest.
But Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, accompanied by several government members and leaders of his Republican Party (HHK), did go to both cemeteries to pay a silent tribute to the government ministers and parliamentarians shot dead by five gunmen that burst into the National Assembly on October 27, 1999. Markarian was a parliament deputy at the time of the attack and was held hostage by them along with dozens of lawmakers and ministers.
The government officials’ engagement was again timed not to coincide with a separate wreath-laying attended by a group of opposition politicians led by Stepan Demirchian and Aram Sarkisian, a son and a brother of the late Miasnutyun leaders.
The only joint ceremony took place inside the parliament building where speaker Artur Baghdasarian and deputies of various political orientations observed a minute of silence in front of a memorial. Most of them believe that the shootings were orchestrated by powerful forces interested in toppling the Miasnutyun government in Yerevan. They also feel that the upcoming end of the trial of the five gunmen led by former journalist Nairi Hunanian will not answer the key question still nagging Armenians.
The opposition leaders used the occasion to renew their allegations of a high-level cover-up of the crime. “The crime may be solved in full under a different regime,” Demirchian told reporters, saying that the long-running trial has been deeply flawed.
Sarkisian, for his part, claimed that the authorities’ decision to put the gunmen on trial in February 2001 while launching a separate inquiry into possible attack masterminds was just a ruse to calm the skeptical public.
Vahan Hovannisian, the parliament’s pro-Kocharian vice-speaker agreed that the ongoing probe will likely lead nowhere but rejected the opposition claims that the authorities have been obstructing justice. “If regime change is so important to them, why don’t they show [evidence of government complicity]?” he said of the oppositionists.
Hovannisian added that if there was any chance of finding out the full truth about the killings, it was lost in the initial “hysterical” stages of the investigation conducted by military prosecutors that looked set to implicate Kocharian until his May 2000victory in a power struggle with government factions loyal to the Miasnutyun leaders. “Unfortunately, the process has been so politicized that no [trial] verdict will satisfy everybody,” he said.
The protracted trial is now expected to finish by the end of this year. On Friday, prosecutors made their concluding statements in the court, demanding life sentences against Hunanian and his four henchmen accused of terrorism and high treason. They pledged to continue to look for Hunanian’s presumed sponsors.
But Demirchian claimed that the authorities have “artificially accelerated” the court hearings in recent months to quash the persisting speculation about Kocharian role in the unprecedented killings that shocked the world. His Artarutyun (Justice) alliance openly accused the Armenian president of complicity, in a statement on October 17.
Kocharian allies have always denied such allegations as baseless, pointing to Hunanian’s insistence that he acted alone. Still, some of them are convinced that the parliament attackers were carrying out someone’s orders.
“I think that there were other organizers of the crime,” said Galust Sahakian, leader of the HHK faction in the parliament. He said that those are probably powerful external forces and that there is little the Armenian authorities can do in bring them to justice.
However, Sahakian’s opposition colleague Victor Dallakian laid the blame on their bungled investigation. “We still know as much about the case as we did on October 28, 1999,” Dallakian told RFE/RL.
(Photolur photo: Demirchian putting flowers on his father's grave.)