By Karine Kalantarian
The presiding judge in the marathon trial in the Armenian parliament killings put an abrupt end to court hearings on Friday just as its main defendant, Nairi Hunanian, was about to reveal “new circumstances” of the case still shrouded in mystery.
Judge Samvel Uzunian wrapped up the nearly three-year court proceedings under apparent pressure from trial prosecutors who claimed that Hunanian’s final speech, which began on Monday, is becoming too long and irrelevant. The ringleader, who led his younger brother, uncle and two other men into the bloody attack in October 1999, was thus unable to finish his closing arguments which relatives of his victims hoped will shed more light on the crime.
That happened after Hunanian for the first time did not explicitly deny the widely held believe that the parliament gunmen had acted on orders from powerful forces interested in overthrowing former Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian. The two co-leaders of the governing Miasnutyun bloc were shot dead by the Hunanian brothers in the attack together with six other officials.
Hunanian has previously stated that the decision to storm the National Assembly was entirely his. But he was more ambiguous on Friday while addressing the key question asked by most Armenians. He claimed that the purpose of the attack was to topple Sarkisian and his government without bloodshed, arguing that if the gunmen had really intended to kill Sarkisian or anybody else, they would not have assaulted them inside the parliament building in front of television cameras.
“This logic applies to both the theory that there were only five of us and the theory that there were more influential people behind me,” Hunanian said. “In both cases, it made no sense to commit murders in that place and in that way.”
The judge interrupted the written speech for several times, telling Hunanian to address only the charges of high treason, terrorism and murder leveled against him and his henchmen. Uzunian argued that the question of who had masterminded the massacre is the subject of a separate investigation still conducted by prosecutors. He had cited similar arguments in response to petitions from lawyers representing the families of Sarkisian and Demirchian.
The relatives suspect President Robert Kocharian of orchestrating the killings and believe that the separate inquiry is just a smokescreen for discarding important evidence on possible crime masterminds at the trial. The Sarkisian family’s Russian attorney, Oleg Yunoshev, protested when Uzunian declared the proceedings over.
In his speech, Hunanian claimed that the probe of the parliament attack and the ensued trial have not been fair because the investigators acted at the behest of the executive authorities. He also endorsed the victim relatives’ allegations that the gruesome video of the gunmen bursting into the parliament chamber was doctored by someone before being broadcast worldwide.
“I myself ordered [a state television] cameraman to shoot everything and never understood why just over eight minutes of film was left from a shooting that lasted from 15 to 20 minutes,” the former student activist and journalist said.
The prosecution has said previously that a forensic examination of the videotape found no evidence of its editing.
Hunanian also tried unsuccessfully to elaborate on his February 2003 letter to Kocharian in which he asked for a meeting with the Armenian president to tell him “something important.”
Uzunian will likely take weeks to announce verdicts in the trial that started in February 2001 and involved 296 court sessions. He is widely expected to agree to the prosecutors’ demands for a life imprisonment to all five gunmen.